The little book of palm

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The little book of palm

Desktop management doesn’t end in the office. This white paper details efforts to make Palmtops Desktop Management Interface (DMI)-compliant

This white paper describes how Desktop Management Interface (DMI)-compliant manageability is being implemented for palmtop PCs, allowing these devices to be viewed and managed as clients within the networked enterprise. Standard manageability allows better control of palmtop assets and hence a lower total cost of ownership for companies investing in palmtop PCs. The implementation consists of a fully DMI-compliant application installed within the user's desktop PC that works with Microsoft Windows CE Services, Symbian's EPOC and Palm's operating systems, to extract a variety of DMI-compatible palmtop PC attributes when the palmtop is locally or remotely connected to the desktop.

Attribute information is stored in a desktop PC-resident Management Information File (MIF). They include model number, serial number, ROM version, processor type, owner information, and PCMCIA and flash memory cards in use. All can be accessed and viewed remotely by the network administrator using a DMI-compliant management application such as Hewlett-Packard's OpenView, Microsoft System Management Server, CA Unicenter or Tivoli. These network management products allows organisations, from small businesses to global enterprises, to create a stable of robust applications that allow administrators to remotely power up, view and manage a variety of DMI, SNMP and HTTP-compliant devices from a central management console. These include UNIX and Windows NT-based servers, network hardware (hubs, routers, and switches), peripherals (printers and scanners), and desktop/mobile computers (desktop PCs, workstations, and laptops). Without this centralised administration, administrators would have to perform many tasks, such as upgrading software and taking asset inventory, locally, at considerable expense.

The Desktop Management Interface

The Desktop Management Interface (DMI) standard has been the single most important advancement in implementing desktop device manageability. In the early 1990s, it was clear that the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), by itself, was not a practicable means for remotely managing diverse desktop PCs because separate SNMP agents were needed for every PC component. DMI overcomes this problem by defining a standard "generic" access format for all PC components. With DMI-compliant hardware in their networked desktop PCs, administrators can access a wealth of standardised hardware and configuration information ( over 300 PC attributes are specified within DMI ( regardless of who manufactures the device. The DMI standard allows data to be gathered locally or remotely and facilitates a wide range of management tasks. Using DMI-compliant management applications, users can retrieve accurate, real-time information from any DMI compliant device on the network, allowing them to consistently manage desktops, servers, laptops and peripherals across different operating systems and network configurations. With DMI compliance, the risk of getting locked into a costly "my brand only" PC or management solution is significantly reduced.

The DMI standard was promulgated in 1992 by the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF), the group that drive the definition and implementation of DMI and other evolving desktop management standards.

Full compliance means they support all 300 standard DMI attributes, come with DMI-compliant BIOS, are DMTF-certified and do not use proprietary implementation methods.

All DMI-compliant devices come with a DMI service provider that provides the interface between the various device components and performs services such as instrumentation and data collection. The Management Information File (MIF) defines what data the service provider can collect from the managed device. A DMI compliant management application resides on the desktop PC, interfaces with the DMI service provider, which extracts stored information from the MIF, and efficiently presents this information to the user. With any DMI-compliant management application, an administrator can gather and retrieve accurate hardware and configuration information from any connected DMI-compliant desktop PC, allowing the company to know exactly what's on the network, where it's located and the status of internal components.

Extending DMI manageability to the palmtop PC

Since its initial use for desktop PC manageability, the DMI standard has been extended to cover PCs, servers, laptop computers and now, palmtop PCs.

Why palmtop PC manageability?

Over the past few years, a new type of device has been used increasingly by corporations to help maximise individual productivity ( the handheld computer or "palmtop PC". Palmtop PCs allow mobile professionals to conveniently capture and communicate information on the go.

Palmtop PCs are a companion to a user's desktop PC, allowing easy synchronisation and transfer of appointments, contacts, tasks, documents and electronic mail. Synchronisation is possible using a docking cradle, cable or modem. Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, including built-in "pocket" versions of Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, allows the mobile professional to capture and carry important information with him while away from his desk. PDA's lightweight and small size mean that critical information is immediately at hand. Finally, the built-in communications software allows customers to send and receive electronic mail, access information on the World Wide Web and send and receive faxes while they are away from their desks.

Palmtop PCs have easy-to-use keyboards and large black-and-white backlit or full-colour displays equivalent to a 1/2 VGA display. They are powerful and offer many unique productivity-enhancing features. Future palmtop PCs will have enhanced capabilities in the areas of information capture, unconscious communications and companionship with other devices ( such as PC or server ( continuing to make these products the most convenient business tool for the mobile professional.

Palmtop PC asset management

Palmtop PCs are both companion products to user's corporate PCs and laptops, and serious business tools in their own right. Many corporate customers want to automatically keep track of and remotely manage their palmtop PC assets. To meet this need, manufacturers developed palmtop PC asset managers. This DMI-compliant software application resides on the user's desktop PC (or laptop computer) and allows palmtop PCs to be treated as managed clients within a company's enterprise management umbrella. This allows top PCs to be part of a global enterprise management system. Currently, DMI can monitor the following palmtop PC attributes:

( Model number

( Serial number

( Asset number

( RAM size

( ROM version

( Processor type

( Owner's name, contact number and office location

( Hardware in PCMCIA slot

( Hardware in PC flashcard slot

( Date and time of last palmtop PC/desktop PC synchronisation

( Docked/undocked status

Most of these parameters are static, i.e. the top user during the course of a day or session does not typically change them; the first seven bullets in the above list are static. Henceforth, all references to the "desktop PC" also include the user's laptop PC.

Other parameters such as the last four bullets, above, are dynamic: their values can change frequently. However, all of these parameters can be viewed from a central management console or from the user's desktop PC. If the palmtop PC is docked, then these values represent the current status of the palmtop. If the palmtop PC is not docked, the parameters can still be viewed and represent the status the last time the palmtop was docked.

Palmtop PC asset management uses and benefits

Here are just a few examples of how a network administrator, working from a console in the corporate IT office, can remotely manage the company's palmtop PC assets:

( The administrator can quickly determine how many palmtop PCs are connected to their user's desktop PCs and list their palmtop PC asset, serial, and model numbers

( If a docked palmtop PC is one that has been "misplaced," then the system can identify the time and place the palmtop was last synchronised with a PC

( The administrator can compile a list of palmtop PCs by ROM release code and RAM size, for ROM upgrade planning

( A help desk technician can remotely identify a palmtop user's unit to help diagnose a problem

How palmtop PC asset management works

A palmtop PC asset manager (the "application") resides on the desktop PC and integrates with the desktop's normal DMI service provider ( the DMI application that interfaces with other components of the PC and palm operating system. For example, Microsoft Windows CE, Symbian's EPOC and Palm's operating system provides the link between the palmtop PC and synchronises personal information and email with desktop PIM software such as Microsoft Outlook 98, device backup and file transfer utilities.

Within Windows, CE synchronisation is carried out by Microsoft's ActiveSync technology, part of Microsoft Windows CE Services. The DMI service provider interfaces with any other DMI-compliant desktop management application. Every time that ActiveSync synchronises with the palmtop PC, the application gathers static and dynamic data from the palmtop PC and passes the data on to the DMI service provider that stores the information in its database.

The first time a user docks his or her palmtop PC to the desktop PC, the application prompts the user for the palmtop PC's serial and asset numbers. At the same time, other static parameters are automatically extracted from the palmtop PC and passed to the DMI service provider and a small management agent is downloaded to the palmtop PC. Information can be viewed at any time using any DMI-compliant desktop management application, whether or not the palmtop PC and desktop PC are connected.

(c) 3Com/Palm Computing

Compiled by Paul Phillips


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This was first published in July 1999

 

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