Managing mobile computing

Laptop computers are one of the biggest stumbling blocks to an IS manager's efforts to manage computer assets with software.


Low-tech asset management
Illustration by Daniel Guidera
It is more difficult than you think to manage a computer that isn't connected to a network. Most computing executives, however, say they have found ways to include laptops in their administrative regiment. But as the following anecdotes indicate, the solutions are as much policy related as they are technology dependent.

Ken Blackman, director of strategic architecture for Promus Hotels, has taken a decidedly low-tech approach to maintaining his company's laptops. Every few months he has mobile users mail in their machines via Federal Express on a Friday. His staff works on them over the weekend and then sends them back by Monday.

As George Lioudis, director of systems engineering at Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Insurance Company of America, explains, running remote administration over 28.8Kbps dial-up connections is far from ideal. "With 28.8Kbps, there's a very limited number of things you can do," Lioudis says. But Prudential employees periodically need to receive software downloads or undergo diagnostic tune-ups. At these times, Lioudis insists employees connect their laptops directly to the network at their branch offices so they are directly running over an Ethernet connected to the WAN trunk versus always connecting remotely with a 28.8 dial-in connection. He'll often prompt employees about these downloads and tune-ups with e-mail.

Fortunately for Lioudis, the Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) he uses has a feature that will check the bandwidth of a connection and only initiate programs if the connection speed exceeds the minimum established by a system administrator for those specific functions. With this feature, Lioudis can initiate a task at any time and SMS will only execute it on the laptops when it detects that they are plugged directly into the network.

At the Houston-based law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, Mark Horak, manager of technology, says his company has had few problems managing laptop environments since all his company's laptops work with desktop docking stations. This way, when employees are not traveling, their laptops are connected to the network for extended periods. Horak says this gives him more than enough opportunity to conduct any administrative work on the machines.//








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