Managing IT with a mobile phone

Specialist tools

While Mobile Admin is designed for system and network administrators, there are also tools designed for specialised administration tasks. DBAs can work with mobile tools too, and Idera provides a tool for SQL Server administrators in the shape of its SQL Mobile Manager. Available for Blackberry and Windows Mobile, SQL Mobile Manager mixes monitoring tools with management features. With databases a crucial piece of the enterprise IT puzzle, knowing that there are problems before they affect your end users - and making sure that they're dealt with quickly and quietly - is an important part of the DBAs job.

Tools like SQL Mobile Manager mean that alerts can be delivered to the right person at the right time, and its administration tools mean that problems can be solved as soon as alerts arrive. If all you're interested in is basic database administration, a quick search at mobile applications sites like Handango will show tools like Loginworks' free PocketSqlMan, a free Windows Mobile administration tool for SQL Server. Oracle administrators aren't left out, as they can use Rove's Mobile Admin to work with databases, schemas and users while on the road.

Sometimes you don't need a full set of administration tools to solve a problem. You might just want to move a file from one server to another. Rove's Mobile File Manager is able to work with both remote and local file systems, so you can use it to access network files from your handheld - and copy them to and from your device. With a tool like this you can work with configuration files using your phone's built-in text editor, rather than editing a file over GPRS or 3G connections.

High end tools aren't the only option. There are implementations of common UNIX administration tools for most mobile devices. You can do a lot with a set of network diagnostic tools and a terminal client - and a lot more if you've got access to a secure shell. Many basic tools are free to download, and you can find versions for all the main smartphone operating systems. Some have odd user interface quirks - one popular Blackberry SSH client splits input and output on separate screens, making working with some server-side applications a little tricky.

Using the web to diagnose

You don't even need to have most of them installed, as online network diagnostic tools can help track down issues. There are several sites that offer web-based ping and traceroute services which can be used as additional diagnostic tools to help track down the source of a network problem.

The simplest form of remote administration is using these tools with a smartphone's built-in web browser. While most browsers don't have the fidelity of the iPhone's Safari implementation, we've found that the basic browsers used by Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Symbian work well with forms-based web sites. There's even AJAX support in Windows Mobile's Pocket Internet Explorer.

Web-based administration tools can be bundled together on a single page (with appropriate password protections). This doesn't need to be a complex programming task. Tools like Webmin wrap standard administration commands and scripts with a simple HTML interface. Webmin's modular architecture means it's also easy to build custom pages that can handle specific tasks. While Webmin is targeted at Linux and other UNIXes, there is limited support for some Windows commands. Windows administrators can use PanelDaemon, which offers basic user and service management.

As mobile devices become more and more powerful, we're going to see may more administration tools ported to ubiquitous devices. Apple's upcoming iPhone development toolkit should allow developers the ability to work with a much richer set of user interface tools, while the next generation of rich internet application platforms look set to build on Flash and Silverlight to make it easier to deliver complex UIs for web service-based administration protocols.

Mobile phones won't be the only mobile administration platform. Small form factor PCs and Mobile Internet Devices with built-in 3G and WIMAX connections will allow access to more complex tools and tasks, but won't be cheap. A low-cost Blackberry Pearl on T-Mobile's Web and Walk tariffs will work just as well - and it'll fit in a pocket.