Managing Assets Anywhere

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2001-09-24

Managing Assets Anywhere

Management tools for laptops, PDAs and pagers cover all the bases, but IT administrators must resign themselves to using separate software distribution and hardware and software inventory tools to track desktop and mobile devices.

IT managers would do well to consider the two products eWeek Labs tested for this Review: Afaria 4.51, from Afaria Inc., an XcelleNet Inc. affiliate; and Mobile Automation Inc.s Mobile Automation 2000 Version 4.0.

These two products offer comparable feature sets, which means that price, not capabilities, will likely be the determining factor when choosing between the two. Both products now manage Palm OS and Pocket PC devices. Afaria manages laptops and Research In Motion Ltd. BlackBerry pagers in addition to laptops.

Both products integrate with Microsoft Corp.s SMS (Systems Management Server). However, neither vendor plans to go anywhere near the saturated desktop management market as long as IT administrators will pay $56 for Afaria and $45 for Mobile Automation to manage a personal digital assistant—the ballpark price for desktop systems is only $15 per device.

These mobile management products command a premium because, as we saw in tests, they can reliably get applications, data and inventory information to and from occasionally connected laptops and PDAs over low-speed, often-unreliable connections.

The Afaria 4.51 console, which shipped last month, is priced at $5,000 for 250 users, $25,000 for 1,000 users and $50,000 for an unlimited enterprise license. Windows client agents cost $120; PDA client agents cost $60. Mobile Automation also became available last month, at $85 per laptop and $45 per handheld (and $9,000 for the primary server). Both products are Windows-based.

High prices aside, the mobile management tools offer everything IT managers need to control mobile devices, including secure hardware and software inventory; backup, along with scheduling utilities that automate running these tasks; and remote control for laptops. Both products can install software and data on PDAs.

Afaria 4.51 can handle rudimentary tasks such as showing the last connection and the number of e-mail messages on a BlackBerry pager. Mobile Automation expects to have similar capabilities in the coming months, officials said.

We tested Afaria 4.51 and Mobile Automation 2000 using a BlackBerry mobile e-mail device, a Palm IIIC from Palm Inc., a Compaq Computer Corp. iPaq 3650 and a Casio Inc. Cassiopeia. All the devices docked with laptops or desktop systems running Windows 2000 Professional or Windows 98. We did not test Afarias SymbianOS smart-phone support.

Orbiter, a comparably priced competitor from Callisto Software Inc., also supports Palm OS and Pocket PC.

Afaria 4


Afaria 4.51

In tests, the rather slim advantage that Afaria 4.51 had over Mobile Automation 2000 is its ability to use Windows Domain security or an LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) server to authenticate users. Both products use medium-duty encryption routines to encode communication between the client and the server. We were able to tie access to software updates to security restrictions based on user rights in Active Directory.

Afaria supports the broadest range of mobile clients, including the BlackBerry, which wont be supported in Mobile Automation 2000 until later this year. For every product except the BlackBerry, we easily gathered essential hardware information such as processor type and the amount of available memory.

Afaria did a good job of keeping this information updated, even when we disconnected our devices ungracefully during synchronization. The only problems we experienced with application and data installations in these cases were that ActiveSync (Pocket PC) and HotSync (Palm) were unhappy with the incomplete synchronization.

Afaria could stand some improvement in its day-to-day operational ease. We had to do a lot of hopping around among various module interfaces to get the information we needed. Just one example of this was when we set up an anti-virus definition file update. We had to do quite a bit of interface-jumping to figure out which devices needed the new definition file and then set up the job to distribute the file.

While putting together the definition file, we found that Afaria 4.51 is bolted onto Windows Installer Tuner from InstallShield Corp. Were seldom happy to see the "Frankenstein" approach to device management, especially in a high-priced product, and we hope Afaria will take the trouble to at least better integrate the installer tuner in the next rev of the product.

Mobile Automation 2000

Mobile Automation 2000

Mobile Automation 2000 is a neatly packaged, surprisingly easy-to-manage tool. We were able to get accurate inventory results within minutes of installing the product. Although the interface got tricky to handle when we included more than 30 systems, we were able to set up groups that made management chores a little easier to handle.

Mobile Automation 2000 isnt as easy to integrate with SMS as Afaria 4.51 is, and we futzed around for several hours to get basic integration between the two products. With the growing number of mobile devices in the work force, its clear that a consolidation between desktop and mobile management is only a question of time, although it remains to be seen which company will be the one to do it first.

Mobile Automation 2000 made quick work of backing up and maintaining laptops and PDAs. During tests, it often took just a few moments for the product to download the application updates and data files that we scheduled for distribution.

The product created a Web page from which we were able to deploy client agents. It was simple to click on the link to install the correct agent. Unfortunately, the product doesnt have a Web-based management interface.

Executive Summary

: Afaria 4.51">

Afaria 4.51


Large organizations that depend on laptops and PDAs will find this latest version of Afaria—particularly its BlackBerry pager support—more suited to their needs than were previous versions of the product.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Organizations deploying Afaria for the first time will get a productivity boost from speedier laptop and PDA application deployment.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Afaria paves the way for organizations to transform PDA deployments from unplanned, "stealth" implementations to planned rollouts.

Supports a wide range of mobile devices; integrates user authentication.

Get used to jumping between management interfaces; Installer Tuner is only partially integrated.

Afaria Inc. (an XcelleNet affiliate), Alpharetta, Ga.; (888) 322-3132;

Executive Summary

: Mobile Automation 2000 4.0">

Mobile Automation 2000 4.0


This upgrade provides a top-notch inventory and application management tool for laptops and PDAs. New device support makes this version particularly well suited to organizations that rely on handhelds and laptops.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Thoughtful management features such as a Web-based interface and unified job scheduling and inventory management will ease day-to-day management tasks.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Mobile Automation 2000 4.0 brings devices under IT administration, reducing management costs and keeping track of these devices.

Carefully designed for ease of administration; inventory quickly collected.

Difficult integration with SMS; interface is overwhelming when dealing with large numbers of devices.

Mobile Automation Inc., Santa Monica, Calif.; (800) 344-1150;

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