May 11, 2001, 11:23 AM — Imagine if all your computers were running in remote locations. Worse, the locations kept changing. How do you keep track of who has what machine? Who needs an upgrade? How do you get the latest copy of your product catalog to the salesman who just left for a convention in Poughkeepsie? And, most importantly, how do you fix the CEO's laptop (who is in Walla Walla) after he's deleted Excel (again) and needs to retrieve last month's sales projections for the board meeting?
It's OK; you can come out from underneath your desk now. We tested five software products that can manage your mobile machines: Xcellenet's Afaria, Swan International's Vision64, Callisto Software's Orbiter, Synchrologic's iMobile Suite and Mobile Automation's Mobile Automation 2000. Because each company has a different vision of what you need to get the job done, we devised a core set of functions as a basis for our comparisons: software deployment, application self-healing, hardware and software inventory, file backup or synchronization, and remote-control capabilities (see "How we did it").
We gave the Blue Ribbon Award to Mobile Automation 2000. While it didn't steal the show in all categories, it was a consistent finisher. It has a scalable infrastructure that is easy to install and manage. It also provides a thorough hardware and software inventory, and was easy to generate reports. The remote control features were fully functional. Finally, the backup of remote files and the ability to schedule restores was good.
If your needs are different, the other contenders may fit your bill perfectly. For example, iMobile Suite has some nice data management features, remote backup and restore functions, and lets handhelds connect via a workstation or directly. Similarly, Afaria offered extra connectivity and support options that might appeal to shops that are heavy on PDAs and light on remote workstations. And Vision64 is great if you need a heavyweight management program but don't have to worry about handhelds. Finally, if you need something that's easy to deploy and use, Orbiter may be your ticket.
Xcellenet's Afaria offers the Laptop Server and the Handheld Server. Laptop Server is a bit of a misnomer, as it can manage any machine running any version of Windows. Xcellenet plans to merge these two products in future versions of Afaria. Both servers run on Windows NT or 2000, and communicate with the remote clients via Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS). But in the current release, they cannot run on the same server, and it requires two machines to manage both types of clients. Afaria uses Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle 8 as its database.