Personal Access Devices and PCs

My next-door neighbor Tom has the right tool for any conceivable job, and he's always willing to help me get a job done and lend me his tools. Whether we need an odd-sized wrench or a special chisel made in the 1920s, Tom has it. His tools are simple, reliable, and well adapted for their intended purpose.

Unlike Tom, we in corporate IS try to use one tool, the PC, to do everything, and PCs are anything but simple, reliable, or well adapted. No wonder end users are purchasing a variety of personal access devices (e.g., PalmPilots, the Franklin Rex Pro PC Card Organizer, hand scanners, Windows CE devices, and computerized watches and phones) for specialized tasks. These devices are proliferating in IS environments. Microsoft's Gordon Bell predicts that by the year 2000, the number of such personal access devices will approach the quantity of all corporate PC desktop systems. The number of these devices will grow 30 to 40 percent faster than PCs, and by the year 2003, they will outnumber corporate desktop systems.

Even Windows NT is following the trend toward specialization and getting into the embedded market. As Windows 2000 (Win2K—formerly Windows NT 5.0) approaches 40 million lines of code, embedding a small portion of the OS into a dedicated device makes sense. The antidote to bloatware is simplicity and reliability. Network Engines, for example, makes a Web server in a box that includes embedded NT Server, Internet Information Server (IIS), replication, and clustering hardware and software. You can connect up to 256 servers into one cluster and manage all of them from one location. To add a server to the cluster, you just connect it. Replication and clustering services start automatically. This product provides true linear scalability in a simple, reliable form that is adapted to users' needs.

Providing Support
So how do IS professionals deal with specialized and personal devices? Ignore them and hope they go away? Refuse to support them and ban them? Perhaps the best way to deal with personal devices is to incorporate them into our hardware strategy.

If we want to provide support for these new devices, we first need to require a solid replication strategy to prevent users from stranding islands of important business data on their personal access devices. If Microsoft Outlook is your corporate groupware standard, you can replicate changes to PalmPilots or Windows CE Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) by using Puma Technologies' Intellisync software, for example. This product replicates data from the corporate network to the laptop and then to the personal device. No data ends up stranded, and users have a backup of all data.

Next, we need to ensure network connectivity. Each device must connect easily to the corporate network or to a device (such as a laptop) that is currently connected. (Soon, we'll probably have to provide wireless connectivity to all these devices. Can you imagine surfing the Web while driving on the freeway?)

Third, we need to make sure that we can update applications easily. Accessing all the PCs around an organization for upgrades is hard enough, let alone accessing all the personal devices sitting in users' pockets. But where there's a will, there's a way. With a PalmPilot, for example, users download a new application to the PC first; then, the next time the user does a normal synchronization, the application loads onto the user's PalmPilot.

What Do You Need?
So what is the best device strategy for your network? At Windows NT Magazine, we want to know what type of coverage this issue requires. Like my neighbor Tom, who always has the right tool, I want to give you all the tools you need to do your job.

Do you want us to ignore all these personal devices, or do you want articles and product reviews about them from an administrator's point of view? How can we help you manage these adaptive devices? If you need a strategy or if you already have one, I would love to hear from you. Perhaps your letters will result in an article about best practices. Meanwhile, we'll keep you posted on our discoveries, focusing on NT connectivity and administration.