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Senior Editor

Mobile messaging hits critical mass

Jan 30, 20067 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging AppsSmartphones

Wireless e-mail has become so important to the District of Columbia that its IT group is crafting its own system to ensure messages can get through in an emergency.

Wireless e-mail has become so critical to the District of Columbia that its IT group is crafting its own failover system to make sure messages can get through in an emergency.

“When you’re talking about 1,300 users, many of them top managers and first responders, the wireless e-mail system has to perform,” says Rob Mancini, program manager, citywide messaging for the government of the District of Columbia. “We’re very focused on emergency services.”

The district’s corporate e-mail server is Microsoft Exchange. But to keep front-line users up-to-the-second, it relies on Good Technology’s software and service to transmit Exchange e-mails to a range of handheld devices over a cellular network.

But neither Good Technology nor the district’s previous vendor, Research in Motion (RIM), has a built-in failover capability, Mancini says. The district plans to link the internal Good Technology servers on its storage-area network with servers elsewhere via NSI Software’s Double-Take data replication-software. Double-Take will continuously copy the wireless e-mail traffic to the back-up servers. The failover capability is scheduled to be in place by September.

Reasons for going mobile A ranking of the most valuable applications, if accessible from a mobile device:
1.Enterprise directory
2.Customer relationship management
3.Instant messaging

Such high-level data protection indicates the growth in numbers and importance of wireless e-mail in the enterprise. In an October 2005 report, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney estimates that by the end of 2006, the number of wireless business and consumer e-mail users will about double, to 16 million. By the end of 2008, Gartner estimates that half of all employees who access e-mail via a wired PC also will have access to wireless e-mail on some type of handheld device, probably a smart phone.

In response to this growth, vendors are recasting themselves through mergers and acquisitions, and through new product features. Behind-the-firewall vendors, which offer server-based software for the enterprise, include Good Technology, iAnywhere, Intellisync, Microsoft and RIM.

Several vendors, such as Seven Networks and Visto, offer similar products for carriers, which install the software and sell wireless e-mail services to businesses and consumers.

One of the most important of these developments was Microsoft’s release last October of Service Pack 2 for Exchange Server 2003. This software for the first time lets Exchange directly deliver e-mail to and from Windows-based mobile devices without the need for extra middleware or third-party licenses on top of Exchange, as required by such vendors as RIM.

But the new service pack requires that handheld devices run Microsoft’s Messaging & Security Feature Pack, which runs only on Windows Mobile 5.0, released in November. The first of these handhelds are now coming to market, but many of them are expected.

“Microsoft has taken synchronization and push e-mail and built them into Exchange and [Windows-based] devices: it’s become a commodity,” says David Via, an analyst with Ferris Research.

Industry consolidation

Last October, Sybase’s iAnywhere division acquired Extended Systems, which offers the OneBridge software for wireless e-mail and other messaging functions (iAnywhere had been reselling Intellisync’s Mobile Suite for wireless e-mail and hasn’t clarified its plans about these two offerings). A month later, Nokia said it would acquire Intellisync, in an effort to give Nokia handhelds new messaging, management and security features.

Earlier in 2005, Good Technology bought JPMobile for its wireless support for Lotus Notes Domino and GroupWise and for its ability to tie them into its GoodLink wireless e-mail server.

The consolidations are part of a related trend by the surviving vendors – a race to support more devices, more networks, more corporate e-mail systems and more kinds of communications, such as instant messaging and telephone voice mail.

Good Technology, for example, announced in August a project with Cisco and Avaya that would let the GoodLink server through Microsoft Exchange collect voice mails left on a user’s VoIP desk phone, and then wirelessly send them as a .WAV file attachment to a standard e-mail. With a client voice mail player from a company such as MotionApps, mobile users can play the message on a Windows Mobile or PalmOS handheld.

RIM and Microsoft announced last April a joint effort to extend enterprise IM to subscribers of RIM’s BlackBerry service. The two vendors plan to link Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which would let BlackBerry users transmit IMs with coworkers and customers while on the road.

After seeing this synergy between wireless e-mail and IM, some companies are forging ahead on their own with these kinds of extensions.

The District of Columbia has a project to create software that will tie IM clients on handhelds together through a database of IM addresses based on the district’s Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directory service. “I’m a very happy Good customer,” Mancini says. “[But] I wish someone had developed an IM component and married it with Good’s wireless messaging platform.”

Enterprise users are increasingly requiring more control over the end device, and that control is being incorporated in the messaging infrastructure. When RIM released BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.0 late in 2004, it let users for the first time synchronize e-mail and other data wirelessly. And that, in turn, extended enterprise IT control over the devices.

“RIM and the other vendors recognize that these devices are being used as [daily] work tools, and they’re giving customers the tools to better manage them,” says Frank Gillman, director of technology at Allen Matkins LLP, a Los Angeles law firm, where about 250 attorneys now handle about 5 million wireless e-mails a year.

Remote management lets Gillman instantly wipe a lost or stolen BlackBerry clean of e-mails, addresses, contacts and other data. “[If]the BlackBerry is still on the air, I can blank it out, kill it,” he says. “You could never do that before. You can manage all this without having the unit in your hand or in a cradle.”

The priority for Gillman and the District of Columbia’s Mancini has been wireless e-mail. Currently neither is using his wireless-messaging infrastructure to access other enterprise applications. But more advanced handheld devices, with more power and built-in features, are likely to push them in that direction. “Users are pushing us to do more and more on these devices,” Mancini says. “I’m very interested in [accessing] the back-office stuff.”

“A lot of BlackBerry users are executives who are using this tool for e-mail and then think, ‘Why can’t I get my sales orders on this device?'” says Tom Blake, vice president of business development for Dativoci, a St. Louis software developer. “Companies are trying to do more with the device and the [wireless messaging] platform they’ve already invested in.”

Dativoci programmers are working with RIM’s recently released Mobile Data System (MDS) Studio toolkit to create two applications that will make use of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server behind a corporate firewall. One is a program that lets field sales staff take orders and check inventory database with a BlackBerry device on a cellular network. The second will give construction inspectors forms and checklists to report on project status.

“MDS Studio creates a framework for building applications,” says Joe Dent, a senior software engineer with Dativoci. “A lot of the network infrastructure, like guaranteed delivery, secure data packets and protocols like [Simple Object Access Protocol], is bound into the Studio. In the past, we had to code all that by hand.”

Senior Editor

I cover wireless networking and mobile computing, especially for the enterprise; topics include (and these are specific to wireless/mobile): security, network management, mobile device management, smartphones and tablets, mobile operating systems (iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10), BYOD (bring your own device), Wi-Fi and wireless LANs (WLANs), mobile carrier services for enterprise/business customers, mobile applications including software development and HTML 5, mobile browsers, etc; primary beat companies are Apple, Microsoft for Windows Phone and tablet/mobile Windows 8, and RIM. Preferred contact mode: email.

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