Wireless Pocket PC networking: A serious tool for every IT department

Servers crash. Who ya gonna call? Unfortunately, Ghostbusters isn't the

right answer. At least not this time.

When a server crashes, it's a network administrator who gets the call.

Day or night, rain or shine, he (odd, it's almost always a he) must have

hands-on access to the ailing server in order to diagnose and repair the

problem, and then restart the system.

Of course, this is not a problem when the administrator is in the

office. Just mosey on down the hall, with coffee mug in one hand and

cheese Danish in another, to the server room. In a somewhat more

advanced environment, he can just log on to the enterprise KVM

(keyboard, video, mouse) system from his desktop. In a really advanced

enterprise environment, where KVM over IP is running, that administrator

can take full control of the suspect server from any Internet-connected

computer from here to Timbuktu. As Louis Armstrong said, "What a

wonderful world."

But what happens when that administrator isn't parked in front of a

networked PC? He might be in his car, waiting at an airport, lounging in

a hotel, riding that last train to Clarkesville, or sitting in a

riveting technical training seminar. What then?

Here's what usually happens: Typically, that administrator might get a

pager or phone text message informing him of the downed server. Placing

a phone call back to the office, he talks with someone onsite, and, from

memory, attempts to guide the second person through the admin screens to

solve the problem and reboot the system. It may work; it may not.

Certainly it doubles the manpower requirement, is prone to delay, and

could even compromise a carefully formulated server password scheme. But

it's the best we've been able to do. So far.

From what I hear, that could change, thanks to our friend, the 802.11b

wireless network. Imagine sitting in a Starbucks somewhere, anywhere

(well, they are everywhere after all) and logging onto their public

fee-based Wi-Fi network with a handheld Pocket PC as you sip your grande

mocha latte. Through a secure VPN, imagine logging into the corporate

network and then accessing the ailing server's console screen to manage,

administer, and reboot. No second person needed, no compromised

security, and no delay. Even better, that Pocket PC carries a price tag

of only a few hundred dollars, a whole lot less pricey than a full-blown

laptop that wouldn't otherwise be needed on the trip. And the Pocket PC

is a lot easier to tote around.

I was initially skeptical of this idea, not because the technology might

not work, but because I wasn't sure about the adequate availability of

wireless access points around the world. I needn't have worried.

Research firm Gartner projects that more than 100,000 hotspots will be

operational worldwide by 2006. Hotels, airports, Starbucks, McDonald's,

Burger King, even Amtrak, and many others are all getting into the act.

At Starbucks, for example, you can buy a monthly access subscription or

a one-day pass.

For your large customers, the ones with dozens or hundreds of servers,

KVM is an absolute requirement, even when everyone is on premises. It

becomes even more crucial when those few competent enough to tend to the

servers are away. Accessing the secure KVM system through a Wi-Fi

connection from anywhere in the world seems like a darn good idea -

unless you happen to be scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

The benefits are numerous. There's no need for two people to solve a

one-man problem. Delays are likely avoided. And, perhaps most important,

customer service levels are improved. That, in turn, enhances the

reputation of the IT department, which, in turn, boosts morale among the

otherwise downtrodden IT staff. And a happy IT staff, well, you get the

idea.

Following closely is the ability to manage entire networks from one's

shirt pocket. This is true empowerment. And it's a technology that is

already deployed and in use today.

What all this tells me is that the handheld PC is finally becoming more

than just a battery-powered address book and Tetris game. We have a

serious, and outrageously inexpensive, tool that truly empowers the IT

department in ways previously unimaginable. To me, it's a whole new

round of solutions we should be out there selling. And Wi-Fi is at last

moving out of the home into enterprise-worthy uses.

Wireless computing is nearing its adulthood. Best of all, Wi-Fi is not

only secure, it's platform independent: You can have it with cream and

sugar, or even ketchup.

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