Sneaking a smart phone into the enterprise

Are smart phones connected to the corporate network a good idea?

Mobile communication is clearly an important aspect of the connected enterprise. Thanks to the consumerisation of IT, people can buy function-rich smartphones and use them in the office environment.

The beauty of letting people use their own kit is that IT should not have to support such devices directly, so long as secure access to the corporate network is available via software such as Citrix XenApps. The question is: how good a corporate citizen is a modern smartphone?

To assess the enterprise suitability of modern smartphones has looked at two devices from HTC the HD2 and Touch Pro 2 - as examples of the types of devices IT may see on the corporate network. Both devices run Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5. The HD2 is a slick iPhone 3Gs wannabe, with a large touch-screen and on-screen keyboard, while the Touch Pro 2 has a slide-out physical keyboard.

Keyboard input

For any serious document creation, an on-screen keyboard is pretty rubbish compared with the five row mini QWERTY keypad on the HTC Touch Pro 2. Typing on the physical keyboard is great using thumbs to select keys, and the 800 by 480 resolution screen makes it easy to use built-in apps such as Mobile Office. With the HD2's on-screen keyboard, it took longer to type. The on-screen keyboard also used up valuable screen space.

Remote access

Traditionally, IT would provide VPN access to the corporate network, which allowed PC users to access business systems and networks on a company laptop if they had the VPN client installed.

Now, people want to use their iPhones, Android-based phones, Symbian or Windows Mobile devices to access the corporate network, so it is no longer possible for IT simply to provide VPN access, since none of these operating systems is capable of running a corporate Windows desktop.

So if IT wants to provide access for smartphones, it needs to look at thin-client technology such as Citrix XenApp, which runs the Windows GUI in a browser window. Citrix basically displays the GUI in the browser; the applications actually run on the Citrix server.

All the end-user needs to get started is a Wi-Fi or 3G connection and a freely available Citrix client, which can be downloaded from Citrix's website.

Setting up Wi-Fi and e-mail on both devices was simple enough. However, getting Citrix XenApp to work was not something a typical end-user would be able to do. Downloading the Citrix client is easy enough, but the HTC Touch Pro 2 gave an SSL 61 error when it tried connecting to the corporate Citrix system. So be prepared for help-desk calls if you use Citrix.

Screen issues

The demo on the Citrix site connected well, but even this suffered from the physically small screen area of the smartphone, which made it almost impossible to use applications running on Citrix without expanding the screen. Running Citrix's Autodesk demo on the Touch Pro 2 was perhaps a bit optimistic, but it did connect over an O2 3G connection after a few minutes.

Normal web browsing also suffered, apart from when browsing a mobile-optimised website.

These limitations aside, the Touch Pro 2 is a bit of a mobile workhorse. Certainly,'s Inspect-a-Gadget was impressed by the tactile keyboard, which makes it entirely possible to use the device to create letters, Powerpoint slides and long e-mail messages. The screen size and form factor of smartphones means it will not always be possible to leave the laptop in the docking station.

Net-book rival

Can it replace a net-book? Again screen size will be a deciding factor. Net-books are also a compromise with regard to screen width, but the larger net-book screens are more usable with Citrix and provide a better user experience when browsing non-mobile optimised websites.

But the built-in Microsoft Mobile 6.5 apps work very well on the 800 by 480 screen. It is also rather good that you can touch the screen to select an icon or move the cursor rather than having to use the rather inadequate net-book touch pad.

The original premise behind this test was to look at how a modern smartphone could be used within the enterprise as a possible alternative to a net-book. The keyboard and touch-screen are excellent. However, the physically small dimensions mean that while remote access and general web browsing are possible, be prepared for a lot of screen zooming and panning.

Also, from an IT support perspective, you may well need to make certain changes to corporate IT to get these devices to connect seamlessly into the enterprise. For instance, the corporate IT security may prevent Active Sync from working when one of these devices is connected to a company PC.

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