In a move to extend its reach over enterprise data to the mobile sphere, Microsoft Corp. last month released Mobile Information 2001 Server, which provides a promising framework for delivering networked resources and services to wireless devices.
However, in its first release, Mobile Information Server breaks little new ground—the product works only with WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) devices, and the servers only out-of-the-box application is Outlook Mobile Access, which enables users to browse the contents of and receive notifications from their Exchange mailboxes.
To gain access to other enterprise data, companies will have to create their own applications using the Mobile Information Server software development kit provided by Microsoft.
Although Outlook Mobile Access performed well in eWeek Labs tests, WAP can be a poor means of accessing enterprise data. Wireless network coverage can be unpredictable, and wed like to see Mobile Information Server support synchronization and offline data access for Palm OS, Pocket PC and Research In Motion Ltd. devices.
Companies looking primarily for mobile e-mail may find that RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise server for Exchange or Lotus Development Corp.s Domino will better suit their needs. BlackBerry-based options do not extend much beyond mail access, but for mail, they easily outpace WAP. For Palm users, we recommend investigating ThinAirApps Inc.s ThinAir Groupware Access.
Mobile Information Server is priced at $15 per seat or $75 per seat for Mobile Information Server with Outlook Mobile Access.
Mobile Information Server depends on Active Directory and must be run on Windows 2000 Server or Advanced Server. Outlook Mobile Access requires Exchange 5.5 or Exchange 2000 with Service Pack 1. Both messaging servers support mailbox browsing, but only Exchange 2000 supports notifications.
After installing Mobile Information Server with Outlook Mobile Access and enabling a test account for wireless mobility, we could browse our Exchange mailbox via a WAP device. During the relatively easy setup process, we created a mobile in-box folder that appeared among the standard Outlook folders. We could have specific messages forwarded to our mobile in-box—upon arrival of these messages, Mobile Information Server would send new message notifications to our WAP device. In this way, we had access to all the mail in our test account, while receiving SMS (Short Message Service) prompts for only the messages we deemed important enough to be so heralded.
Mobile Information Server can send notifications from a corporate network to a carrier network via SMTP, where they are converted to SMS messages and forwarded along to the users device.
A second, more secure option requires that both a company and its wireless carrier have Mobile Information Server installed. In this scenario, notifications travel through the Internet over a secure IP Security connection between the company and carrier Mobile Information Servers, providing an acknowledgment that the notification has reached the carrier.