Hit the highway

How will next-generation server technology evolve in order to support the new generation of mobile professionals? David Bicknell...

How will next-generation server technology evolve in order to support the new generation of mobile professionals? David Bicknell assesses what you need to know in order to make sure your servers can support the latest in mobility technology

At Intel in 1998, 80% of employees used desktop PCs, with only 20% using notebooks. Now, in common with a trend in many blue-chip companies, that ratio has turned upside down, and most corporate machines are notebooks, with desktops in the minority.

The change has come because PC users everywhere no longer want to be chained to their desks by technology. They want to stay connected while moving around office buildings, working from home, on the road, and even – securely – over a latte in the nearest coffee shop.

As mobile awareness increases, organisations are already adopting more innovative systems to make the most of improved mobile-based alternatives. But server technology has to evolve if your company is to maximise the advantages of it.

Computing and communications are converging at an ever-increasing rate. The latest mobile phones are as much internet devices as they are phones, while mobile digital assistants (MDAs) handle everything from wireless data to voice communications.

Meanwhile, notebooks offer integrated wireless capabilities, allowing you to both compute and communicate ‘out of the box’.

Yet a few issues need to be addressed before real, effective mobility can be achieved. New client mobile devices must be reliable, secure, and able to support robust and, importantly, secure applications.

Connectivity must be pervasive; meaning you can connect simply, irrespective of device or geographic locality, and roam uninhibitedly; across wireless networks and hotspots in your home, your business and public spaces.

New class of applications

Furthermore, typical business applications need to be more effective and as easy to use ‘on the road’ as they are in the office. Security concerns and ease of use issues have limited the adoption of mobile services in the past. Today, a mobile lifestyle requires a new class of applications that uses location and user profile information to facilitate access across an array of devices and networks.

Alan Priestley, Director of Marketing with Intel’s Enterprise Server Group, suggests that with users already managing a number of mobile devices at the same time, eventually a merger of devices must take place.

“Now you often have a cell phone with PDA features, or a PDA that incorporates a phone. The challenge is to balance the mix. If you are using a device to get hold of messages, which one do you prefer to use – notebook, mobile phone or PDA – and what do
you want to get: voice, email, or SMS?”

Priestley suggests that what you will actually want is a seamless, transparent process in which you get the data in the right form at the right time on the right device. For example, you wouldn’t want to receive a 50-page file on a mobile phone because it would be hard to read.

In one good example, the Clalit Health Services Group in Israel has adopted systems that mean doctors no longer have to be in their offices to gain access to patient records. Adopting easy-to-carry tablet PCs means patients’ entire medical histories can be available anywhere.

Bandwidth issues

Server infrastructures particularly must be able to cope. The issue is less to do with changes to processors and more about how IT as to evolve its infrastructure to support the new mobile usage models. The increased adoption of mobile devices will impact the way you build your server infrastructure, because legacy systems are generally unable to cope with the level of capability and increased data complexity that comes with mobile usage.

Bandwidth issues too are likely to mean differences in the ‘slice’ or ‘cut’ of corporate data that as you will be able to see. More flexible messaging may mean you can’t take a phone call in a meeting, but you might receive that same voice call translated into a text message.

The biggest issue is the need for real ‘mobilised’ applications that provide you with software that delivers services effectively to your ‘on the road’ users. Priestley says: “Lots of applications work in a monolithic mode. We need ISVs to create seamless applications that don’t depend on having a permanent connection to a server farm. We need a ‘mobile software infrastructure’, so we are working with SAP and other enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors on applications that have the ability to run both offline and online.”

The bottom line is that you should be dealing with technology firms that have the right connections. These companies need to work with telecoms organisations and service providers to put together new mobile infrastructures and business models, including updating the way they bill you for services. Once this is addressed, you are on the road to getting the best from mobility.

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