10 top iPhone apps for IT pros

Want to prove that your iPhone is good for business? Here are 10 useful apps that can improve your IT operations.

While the frivolous iPhone apps usually get most of the media attention (yes, there really are over 175 apps that can produce rude bodily noises), there are quite a few apps that can help you do your job as an IT worker. While less notorious, they are worth your time to download and check out.

These apps serve several purposes. They can control or interact with appliances that are part of the corporate network, monitor and remotely control your office PCs, or check your Web server. While the small screen of the iPhone can't deliver everything that your multi-monitor desktop rig can, this collection of enterprise-class applications will help iPhone-carrying IT workers manage their work lives better.

What follows is a list of 10 IT business-related iPhone apps. Most of these apps require the v3.0 firmware to work properly. I have also tried to pick those apps that are free (or nearly so).

Network troubleshooting/security tools

One of the more fruitful areas of app development for the iPhone is in troubleshooting common network problems, such as figuring out IP subnetting issues, pinging a particular server, looking up a traceroute to a particular destination on the Internet and similar tasks. There are also iPhone companions for larger enterprise network appliances; while most of these aren't free, there are usually demo versions that you can try out if you are thinking of buying one.

Network Utility -- Connectivity Checker v2.1

Need to do a quick check of your Web server on the Internet or look up a domain name? This is the utility for you. It comes with tools such as ping, port scan, whois queries and geographic lookup of the IP address range. It is easy to enter your host name (although a ".com" dedicated softkey would save on some keyboard taps). If/when it adds Netcat support, this will be a must-have for security professionals familiar with that tool.

There are numerous other network utilities for the iPhone, such as Traceroute, Host LookUp, iTCPing and Network Diagnostics Pro, but they are more expensive and have user interfaces that are not as elegantly designed.

Network Utility -- Connectivity Checker v2.1 from Codepacity, LLC

Price: $US1 | iTunes link

Cymphonix iPhone Application v 1.1

Cymphonix iPhone gives you real-time monitoring of your enterprise Internet connection -- but only if you are connected to a Cymphonix Network Composer appliance that does deep packet inspection, intrusion detection and content filtering. It lets you access data that the appliance collects, such as bandwidth consumption, traffic by protocol and application, etc.

If you want to try it out, you can connect to a live demo Cymphonix appliance on a test network to give you an idea of what statistics are available. The test network is built into the application itself, or you can enter the address of your own appliance.

My only problem with the app is that the deep tree of the company's menu design is about as aggravating as navigating through your iTunes library when you are trying to track down a particular song title. Still, this is a good example of how a traditional network troubleshooting infrastructure vendor can leverage the iPhone for useful IT management, and a good way to show your boss what you can get if you are in the market for the Cymphonix appliance.

Cymphonix iPhone Application v 1.1 from Cymphonix Corporation

Price: Free | iTunes link

IPEToolbox, v1.2.1

Remember your first networking class, where you had to learn how to calculate network subnet masks and other TCP/IP arcana? Well, now you can do it all from your iPhone. There are a lot of utilities out there that can help you scan your network, including R-U-On and iNet from Banana Glue. (Why do app developers have to adopt the Apple cuteness ethos?) But IPEToolbox goes beyond the basics.

Besides telling you how many nodes on your network is meant by the term "/16," IPEToolbox lets you calculate the optimal subnet size given the number of nodes, or you can find out how to write various allow-and-deny firewall rules in the most concise manner possible. It also has a VoIP bandwidth calculator, which tells you the number of Erlangs for your voice traffic.

IPEToolbox, v1.2.1 from ikidy

Price: $US1 | iTunes link

9BitLabs Simple Network Area Prober (SNAP) v1.02

This tool uses your Wi-Fi network to scan your local area network and see what else is nearby. It will list all the hosts that are on your subnet. You can drill down and see the IP and MAC addresses of each host, along with the name of the vendor of the network adapter and whether the host will accept network pings. You can also do a quick port scan and see which lower-numbered ports are open and accepting connections.

For example, when I used SNAP on my home network, I found that my Roku video streaming box had an open port of 8080 (which is probably not of much interest for business purposes but is good for cocktail party chatter).

9BitLabs Simple Network Area Prober (SNAP) v1.02 from 9Bit Labs LLC

Price: $US2 | iTunes link

RSA SecurID Software Token for iPhone Devices v1.1.1

If you're tired of carrying around those key-fob-sized two-factor authentication tokens and you run your own SecurID server, then this is the app for you. RSA SecurID replaces the physical fob itself, and provides the second software factor that you use to identify and authenticate yourself to critical applications in your enterprise.

You will need to issue software tokens and e-mail them to your iPhone Mail account; you'll also need an activation code to install the token to this app. The help instructions are rather extensive for the installation process, which is a nice touch.

This doesn't turn your iPhone itself into the second factor for general authentication purposes, such as to use with eBay or your bank -- you have the ability to use it only with existing applications that are protected by your own RSA-issued tokens. These include your corporate VPN or Web applications. There are other applications that will work with any landline or mobile phone for this task, such as PhoneFactor.

RSA SecurID Software Token for iPhone Devices v1.1.1 from RSA Security

Price: Free | iTunes link

Cisco Security Intelligence To Go v1.1

Cisco Security Intelligence to Go v1.1 (otherwise known as SIO To Go) is a nice pocket companion that keeps you updated on breaking security news. It aggregates up to 16 security news feeds in a single screen, which can be a bit overwhelming at first glance. When you find an article of interest, the app opens up a Safari Web browser on your phone so you can read the details.

There is a similar iPhone app called iAdviseMe ($1) that will pull security alerts from a variety of public sources, but Cisco has a better designed app. This is largely due to the online reputation scores that it compiles as part of its SenderBase service (which the company acquired from IronPort systems in 2007).

You can also quickly see if you are dealing with a spammer or phishing site. You just enter the domain name in the app, and SIO To Go will offer information such as the domain owner records, any suspicious e-mail or Web traffic, and other data that can be useful to determine the provenance of the domain.

Cisco Security Intelligence To Go v1.1 from Cisco Systems Inc.

Price: Free | iTunes link

Remote control

Depending on what you need to control and with what protocol, there are a number of iPhone apps for you. There are various Windows RDP clients and other screen-sharing applications out there as well, including Cisco's WebEx Meeting Center and GoToMeeting. Here are my favorites.

Mocha VNC Lite v 2.3

There are several VNC clients out there for the iPhone, but this app is the only free one. It lets you remotely control any VNC-based server (including Mac OS X with its built-in remote screen sharing) from your iPhone. Just enter the IP address and off you go.

There is also a full version for $6 that adds additional support for sending Ctrl-, Alt- and other special key combinations as well as right mouse button support, which might be of interest depending how much you live inside VNC sessions.

Mocha VNC Lite v 2.3 from MochaSoft Aps

Price: Free | iTunes link

Citrix Receiver v1.0.3

Citrix Receiver allows you to remotely control a desktop from your iPhone and run any Windows apps that are on servers hosted by XenApp 5 or Presentation Server 4.5. While looking at your Windows desktop from the tiny iPhone screen can be frustrating (and an exercise in using the iPhone's scrolling features), it can be helpful in those emergency situations when you can't get to a full desktop and need to fix something quickly.

You can also use a feature called DocFinder to locate documents on your network servers. You can host or join GoTo Meetings, and you can quickly set up a demo account from your iPhone to try out the many other Citrix Receiver features that are available, which is a nice touch.

Citrix Receiver v1.0.3 from Citrix Systems, Inc.

Price: Free | iTunes link

File sharing

It is one of the more glaring omissions of the iPhone -- unlike ordinary iPods, which you can use as external USB drives, an iPhone lacks the ability to copy files other than your music and photos to and from your desktop. If you want to use your iPhone to access your desktop files, you'll need an app to do this.

FileMagnet v1.3.2

There are a number of file-sharing apps available in the iTunes App Store, and my favorite is FileMagnet.

You need both the iPhone app as well as a desktop companion client to communicate to your iPhone. Both your desktop and your iPhone have to be connected over the same local Wi-Fi network, and you need iTunes as well (which presumably isn't an issue).

Once you install the desktop client, you can push files from your desktop over to the iPhone by simply dragging them from the Finder or Windows Explorer and dropping them into to the FileMagnet window. FileMagnet can automatically manage the connection between the desktop and iPhone for you as well. It includes viewers for many popular file types, such as PDF, HTML, and Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can store as many files as you have room for on your iPhone, and they can be as large as you have space for.

FileMagnet v1.3.2 from Magnetism

Price: $US5 | iTunes link

Box v1.3

If you want more than just file transfer, Box.net has an iPhone client that lets you share your documents in its online storage space. You can also upload photos from your iPhone and add collaborators by folder too.

I like Box because your files can also be seen on your LinkedIn page and you can incorporate a vast library of "Open Box" add-on applications. However, Box isn't perfect -- these add-in applications aren't included in the iPhone app; you have to make use of the Web client. And the iPhone app is missing some of the more interesting controls that are found in the Box Web client, such as being able to create a unique URL for ad-hoc file sharing.

Box v1.3 from Box.net

Price: Free | iTunes link

Keep reading: Opinion: Putting the iPhone to work -- at work

David Strom is a veteran technology journalist, speaker and former IT manager. He has written two books on computing and thousands of articles. His blog can be found at strominator.com.

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