Managing Assets Anywhere

New tools from Afaria, Mobile Automation keep tabs on far-flung devices.

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.