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No rest for the wicked! My first week back has meant clocking up the miles and visiting vendors and attending meetings.

One of the software vendors I went to visit was Sybase at their Maidenhead office and particularly their mobility division. I would like to thank Ian Matthews and Tim Roberts for there hospitality.

The day visit was a deep dive into the Afaria mobility management product.

Afaria, if you have done your homework, is the pretty much the market leader in the mobility management space according to the likes of Gartner et al. So what is mobility management?

Put simply mobility management is about looking after all your mobile devices and to cater for the scenarios they are likely to encounter once your have sent them out into the field.

The two most common reasons are,

What if you want to patch the software on your devices, but they are in the field? How do you send that update out?

What if the device does missing/stolen, the device potentially has information stored on it that you would not like other to see and could also be an access point into your organisation. How do you manage security?

Mobile devices by their very nature are not connected to the corporate network via a LAN or WAN, most these days send data back and forth via GSM or GPRS over IP via a network provider such as Vodafone or Orange for example. Unless you have lots of money your data is going to leave the network provider and arrive at your corporate network via the Internet. Now I won't go into VPN's and APN's today (I will if you wish another day, email me if you want a post on this) other than to say your data will need to go through all the security rigors of any data that is sent to and from your organisation. Just like any mobile phone a mobile device is going to be in places where it's not going to get any network coverage how do you manage a device in this scenario?

Afaria deals with these issues and does it in a simple and comprehensive way. Let me explain ...

The first task with Afaria is to build the inital install for you device. The devices that Afaria support are Window Mobile (2002 - Mobile 5), Windows CE (Version 2 -5) , Windows Win32 (Windows  XP,2000,2003), Smartphone (2002- Mobile 5), Palm and Symbian. The intial install will cater for the differences between platforms. The inital install is where you can also completely customise and lock-down your device and apply your chosen security regime. The inital install can also install any number of additional piece of software included links SMS and/or Altaris packages.

In the case of Windows Mobile you have the choice of a target machine to run the deployment and provisioning via Active-Sync or bundled up in a CAB file ready for execution on the device. Automatically after installation you can get the device to check for updates.

Once deployed the device is in complete control via Afaria. The Afaria console (which is written in ASP.Net 1.1) can take complete control of an individual device. (There are many different ways for you to identify an individual device so the choice is yours.) The Afaria console will require a server with a database, SQL Server is the most common used, but Afaria will support Sybase ASA and Oracle. The Afaria server will send instructions to and from the Afaria agent on the device via it's own data protocol via IP. You will need to nominate a single port and a transport, HTTP(s) is fine. You can also choose to use SSL is you wish.

What you can do with a device is separated into different channels (or tasks). The products purchase allows you to pick and chose which channels you will need, so if you don't need all of them then don't buy all of them! Each different channel will adjust its usage depending on the target platform as some platforms have different features and characteristics than others. In the next release of Afaria (which is due this quarter) Sybase intend to take full advantage of the new features in Windows Mobile 5.

With the channels you can send out software updates, device patches, security patches, deploy who new applications, this installations can be provoked by SMS or Altaris which Afaria is completely compatible with. Or changes in security groupings as Afaria is LDAP and Active Directory compliant. Or change the security, reset logins, perform soft and hard resets, wipe the device, turn features on or off. All this remotely.

The Afaria agent will poll the server for instructions, the time period can be customised, typically once every five minutes. If the device isn't in network coverage range, it won't poll. Instructions for that device will be stored up until it's available. You can even change the order of instructions if you wish something to happen first. Afaria will also give you a full history of what has happened to that device in as much as as little detail as you require as you can drill down into the historical data.

For more complicated tasks Afaria comes with a scripting system that allows you to customise tasks, it is pretty powerful but if there is something missing you can always shell out to a VBScript or JavaScript. For most tasks I can't see you ever having the need to so that, but who knows.

I wasn't joking when I said it was simple to use and comprehensive.

Now to my grips. Sybase have a good product and they clearly are strengthening their portfolio with recent acquisitions. I really hope that Sybase do not lose any of the ease of use of functionality in the quest to integrate the product set.

Sybase also have a confusing in their marketing, this is because of acquisition, but it needs to be rectified as their are to many brands!

The biggest sin of all is that the website doesn't have any RSS feeds whatsoever! How am I going to watch Sybase easily now? Visit their website every quarter? Like I'm going to remember to do that. Feed my aggregater Sybase and I will keep tabs on you.

Anyway, Afaria is a great product, deserves it's applause and the awards. It's pretty clear that Sybase aren't resting so I can see Afaria going to strength to strength.

If you have considered a mobile management piece I would suggest that you look at this product. If you haven't considered mobile management I suggest you do.

Posted on Sunday, January 8, 2006 2:05 PM Main | Back to top

Comments on this post: Mobile Management made easy with Sybase iAnywhere's Afaria

# re: Mobile Management made easy with Sybase iAnywhere's Afaria
Requesting Gravatar...
Nice one mate - you are dead right about the way that they are selling their product - when was the last time you saw a web site with NO Graphics or architectural diagrams to assist in explanation? I'm still unsure about what it's capable of....
Left by Dave Caddick on Jan 08, 2006 8:34 PM

# re: Mobile Management made easy with Sybase iAnywhere's Afaria
Requesting Gravatar...

I will try and get some architectural diagrams out of them and post them here.

Not having RSS these days for a tech company is a crime!
Left by Dave Oliver on Jan 09, 2006 8:28 AM

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