Zenprise add-on tracks, manages BlackBerry devices

Software add-on lets network managers pinpoint a BlackBerry's location via GPSs

Zenprise is adding a BlackBerry device management option to its flagship MobileManager application.

The new code is designed to let enterprise network managers pinpoint a BlackBerry's location via GPS, remotely view user problems on the device itself, and identify and inspect any third-party software downloaded by the user.

The Device Manager is an add-on module for Zenprise MobileManager, a server-based application that automatically monitors BlackBerries, Windows Mobile devices and iPhones to see problems, analyze their underlying causes and make recommendations to fix them.

The software module is the latest tool for managing the surge of handheld devices, which are putting a growing management and security burden on network IT groups.

Through a small agent downloaded to the BlackBerry, Zenprise Device Manager (ZDM) gives network managers a real-time window to the device. The agent lets them remotely track the device's location (using the onboard GPS chip), see an inventory of its hardware and software, view incident data and inspect all third-party applications running on it. While BlackBerry Enterprise Server does collect and store a range of device data, it does so only periodically, and the data can be up to six hours old, according to Ahmed Datoo, vice president of marketing for Zenprise.

The original focus of MobileManager was automated monitoring and troubleshooting of the entire BlackBerry e-mail chain, including the device itself, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server behind the firewall, Research in Motion's network operations center, and the connections between all three, including the cellular link. The company has been broadening the reach of the software to turn it into a complete mobile device and application management system, for several mobile operating systems, including Windows Mobile earlier this year.

The ZDM agent hibernates on the device until it receives a request from the Zenprise server, through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. The two-way connection is fully encrypted. There are three main parts to ZDM: device locator to map the BlackBerry's GPS position; device task manager to create a remote view of problems on the device; and device auditor to remotely inspect applications.

The help desk or administrator sees a dashboard arrangement of current data about a given user and device (or groups), such as battery level, what applications are using the most memory, and the average time it takes for corporate users on T-Mobile to receive messages. Administrators click on diagrams or index tabs to see more detailed subsets of information.

The ZDM device task manager makes use of data kept in what RIM calls BlackBerry "service books," which are somewhat akin to configuration files. A service book details how the device and its various applications will connect to RIM's servers, and specifies software and other settings. Being able to read service books enables ZDM to examine applications in more detail, without the user having to be talked through a series of actions and explaining the results to a remote help desk staffer, according to Datoo.

Device auditor lets that staffer see a complete list of applications on the handset, which ones are running and the resources they're using. You can see if the free (and addictive) BrickBreaker game is running, for example.

There are a wide range of device management applications available, but many are focused on a specific operating system, such as Microsoft's System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 (MDM), which began shipping a year ago. Sybase iAnywhere's Afaria, which last year added firewall and antivirus support, is one product that supports several mobile operating systems. Other device management applications include HP's Enterprise Mobility Suite, Good Technology's Mobile Messaging (now part of Visto), Motorola's own MotoPro Mobility Suite and Wavelink's Avalanche Mobility Center.

Such software is only one of the elements needed for full, effective enterprise control of mobile devices.

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