Hot apps and cool tools for the wireless enterprise

These six products get the thumbs-up for combining wow with workability.

Streaming the latest "American Idol" performances to your cell phone might be pretty cool, but it's not going to help your company hit its quarterly numbers. For unwired enterprise users, hot applications and cool tools have to blend the "wow" factor with practicality and payoff. The cutting edge in technology is always fascinating, and you can see it at its best in our recent coverage of the Demo show, hosted by Network World's Events group. However, for your next-generation infrastructure, the New Data Center, we know that hot applications and cool tools for the unwired mean the ones that combine innovation with a track record of performance. Here are our picks.

Hot apps

Special delivery: enterprise data via e-mail

Company: ClairMail

Product: ClairMail

You're standing in front of an irate customer in his office, with your smart phone in hand, and you really need to know the details about his late order. Using your smart phone's e-mail program, you select an e-mail address, enter the customer's name on the subject line, and hit Send. In less than a minute, you have the data, pulled from your company's back-end CRM system.

With ClairMail's server software, you send e-mails from your address list not to colleagues but to enterprise databases and applications with one click. E-mail becomes an application interface.

It's addictive, too. Employees at J2K Technology, a Garden City, N.J., IT services company that advises customers on what products to buy, now use ClairMail routinely, even for Web searches, because it's so much faster and simpler than the BlackBerry Web browser, says Kevin Bock, J2K's president.

Users select CM Google from their address list, type in the search terms and e-mail it to ClairMail's hosted service, which runs the search and returns the results.

Rivals in this space include Sybase's iAnywhere group and Sendia, recently acquired by Salesforce.com.

As a hosted service, ClairMail is $5 per user, per month. As an in-house appliance behind the corporate firewall, pricing is $40 per user, per month.

Mobile applications made simple

Company: Dexterra

Product: Dexterra Concert Platform

Dexterra Concert is middleware that users say dramatically simplifies building and deploying mobile applications.

With Dexterra Concert, application developers can focus entirely on creating the client application using existing Microsoft .Net or Java tools, along with reusable components from Dexterra. A metadata repository and interfaces do the heavy lifting for communications.

"You're completely eliminating the issues of synchronizing data, authentication and network communications," says Ron Fijalkowski, executive vice president for technology and central services at SDI, a Bristol, Pa., IT services company, an early Dexterra customer. "You just focus on creating the [client] business logic and forget about the infrastructure issues related to wireless."

Ready-to-use connectors link a Dexterra server to Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle and SAP applications. Dexterra also offers a set of applications built on the Concert platform, including asset management, field service and mobile workforce management.

Rivals in this space are numerous, including Intellisync, now part of Nokia, and Syclo.

Pricing is based on the complexity of the deployed application and the number of Dexterra components involved, such as the interfaces to SAP and Oracle. The price for a subscription license is $30 to $60 per user, per month. The price for the more traditional perpetual license is $200 to $900 per user.

Tracking movable gear

Company: PanGo Networks

Product: PanGo Locator with PanGo Active RFID Tags

Think about how much time and money are spent by staff at a sprawling medical center or a manufacturing plant just searching for the various pieces of portable equipment they need when they need them. Now think about looking at a computer screen, running a query and instantly finding the room where the gear you want is located. Now think about doing that with the wireless network you already have in place.

"It's cool to watch devices in motion in real time," says John Halamka, CIO for the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "You can view the location of equipment as it's moved from place to place."

He estimates the PanGo system is saving each nurse and doctor 20 minutes a day at the medical center. PanGo (named on Network World's 2004 list of start-ups to watch.) employs active radio tags, which use a 802.11b radio to transmit a signal that access points or special sensors pick up (conventional, supply-chain RFID tags use a different frequency and are passive - a reader beams a signal to the tag, which uses that energy to send a response).

The PanGo tags attach to equipment and even people. The PanGo server also can use location data from Cisco's 2700 Location Appliance and already established wireless LAN (WLAN) access points; it translates the raw data into coordinates and puts them on a floor plan or map.

A rapidly expanding group of companies offer location services technology. They fall into two broad groups. The first, including Radianse, RF Code and WhereNet, typically uses the unlicensed but lower-frequency spectrum. A newer group, including AeroScout, Ekahau and PanGo, base their products on the IEEE 802.11 WLAN standard.

For about $100,000, a customer can track 500 discrete assets, PanGo says. That investment includes PanGo Locator, the PanOS systems software and the radio tags.

Cool tools

The world in your Palm

Company: Palm

Product: Palm Treo 700wx smart phone

What's cool? Palm's legendary usability with a wealth of Windows applications and tools and the speed of Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO) cellular data services, all in a phone that really is smart.

The newly released 700wx, initially for Sprint Nextel's Power Vision Network, introduces the Windows Mobile Messaging and Security Feature Pack for the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. That means it supports certificate-based authentication for Exchange data and push e-mail (that is, automatic forwarding), and it lets network administrators wipe data from local or remote devices.

Coolest of all: a built-in interface to Sprint's Code Division Multiple Access EV-DO cellular network, which delivers typical downstream speeds of 400K to 700Kbps. (Sprint plans in early 2007 to launch EV-DO Revision A services, which could provide a peak data rate of 3.1Mbps downstream.)

Network World Cool Tools columnist Keith Shaw has an overview of the 700wx, though he hasn't yet taken it on the road. But earlier this year, he reviewed the 700w, the first Windows-powered Palm handheld, trying it out with an EV-DO card. "The Treo 700w is a great gadget; it works well with the EV-DO network, and would be a great tool for the enterprise mobile worker," he wrote.

Windows Mobile 5.0 and applications tie into Outlook, Exchange and other Microsoft applications. Users also benefit from a fast-growing and -maturing group of business-oriented applications. And Palm's expertise in usability tops off the list of this device's attractive features.

Competition is fierce: Motorola's recently released Q device, the Nokia E61 and more recent BlackBerry models all are targeted specifically at the enterprise.

With a two-year cell contract, Sprint's price for the 700wx is $299 to $499. Without the contract, the device lists for $619 to $649.

The PC that fits on your key ring

Company: Route1

Product: MobiKey

Imagine a mobile thin client that is so thin there isn't even a client.

People like it: Route1 recently announced that two telecom service providers placed orders for 6,000 of these smart USB devices.

The thumb-sized MobiKey drive plugs into a USB port on any available Windows PC with an Internet connection. The software inside launches from onboard ROM, connects to Route1's MobiNet hosted service and loads the logon screen. Users authenticate, using embedded digital certificates, through MobiNet, which then sets up an encrypted SSL tunnel through the corporate firewall.

Users have fully protected access to their desktop PC and other authorized computers, using just the local PC's keyboard, mouse and a bit of protected memory space.

About 100 people use MobiKey at Bell Business Solutions, a Montréal subsidiary of Bell Canada, which does IT consulting for small and midsize enterprises. When they're out of the office they use BlackBerrys for e-mail, but when they need access to desktop and Citrix-based applications, they find a PC in a hotel business center or Internet café, plug in the MobiKey and reach their corporate PC, says James Hickey, a company vice president and committed MobiKey-er.

"I see my entire desktop, as if I had turned on my computer at the office," he says. Now, that's cool. MobiKey costs $399 per device; the price includes a one-year subscription to MobiNet.

Finding Wi-Fi

Company: ZyXel Communications

Product: AG-225H 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi Finder & USB Adapter (WFUA)

The name is almost as long as the device itself, which measures 3.8. by 1.1 by 0.6 inches, roughly the size of two fingers side by side.

The WFUA has two uses: It's a USB Wi-Fi adapter that plugs into a laptop or handheld and supports 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g radio connections to a hot spot or enterprise WLAN. It's also a stand-alone WLAN detector: Pull it out of your pocket and switch it on, and it picks up the nearest access points and displays data on each one via an LCD screen. You can hunt for the best connection without having to unpack, boot up and lug around your laptop.

"We use it for verifying wireless coverage and signal strength all over campus, since it also gives a signal strength bar graph for each access point it detects," says Arthur Emerson, network administrator at Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh, N.Y.

The high-contrast LCD screen shows information on each access point's Service Set Identifier, encryption requirements, frequency band and channel assignment.

In addition, it works with 5GHz 802.11a WLAN access points and has 802.11a drivers for computers with Version 10.3 and higher of the Macintosh OS X operating system, a rarity according to Emerson. If you're a Mac user, you can use WFUA to connect to 802.11a access points. It takes security seriously, supporting Wi-Fi Protected Access and WPA2.

There are other devices like this, such as the Linksys WUSBF54G Wireless-G USB Adapter with Wi-Fi Finder, which creates an even more awkward acronym, LWWGUAWF. That product doesn't support 802.11a, however.

Zyxel's list price is $99, but a survey of online sites shows most prices are around $80, with some as low as $60.

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