An enterprise server is a computer running programs that serve the needs of a group of users in an organization. A mobile enterprise server takes care of the needs of mobile business users, and it does a large part of its job by functioning as a gateway between other enterprise servers (such as mail, ERP, CRM, or Web servers) and the vast and varied world of wireless networks and small handheld computing devices.
To adequately carry out this responsibility, a mobile enterprise server has several different functions to perform. It has to format content to better fit the mobile device, synchronize information between the handset and enterprise data stores, and often it must serve as a proxy client for certain back-end applications. In this latter case, the back-end system responds to the proxy software as if it were any other client.
Let’s look at the different things that need to be configured on a mobile enterprise server to meet the needs of most organizations.
E-mail is by far the most popular mobile application. You’ll usually have the option of allowing users to work offline and synchronize periodically or to have them work in real time. In most cases you’ll want to let the user download messages, then read and compose mail offline, and only require a connection when the user selects to refresh or send.
If you choose offline operation you then have to select the conditions under which synchronization takes place: at preset intervals, on arrival of new mail, or upon the user’s request.
You might also configure your server to block or filter certain mail, not allowing unwanted messages to make it to the mobile device. In addition, you might choose to synchronize only certain folders.
When it comes to attachments, you have more choices to make. Do you want to send attachments in their entirety to the handset, do you want to send only those attachments the user chooses to open, or do you want to disallow attachments entirely? The first case is desirable only when you have a lot of space on the device and when you have high-bandwidth connections.
The other question you’ll have to address with regard to attachments is whether or not you want users to be able to modify them on mobile devices. If so, you have to make sure the necessary applications are running on the handset.
Calendar services allow users to view their calendars, schedule meetings, and receive meeting requests. There are several options you can configure. Do you want to synchronize the user’s calendar on the device with an enterprise calendar? Which one? Do you want users to be able to view information about what colleagues are doing and their availability in the same way as they would in the office?
Contacts are also a popular feature among mobile users who need access to e-mail addresses as well as phone numbers. You might want to allow them access to the entire enterprise directory, but unless your directory is relatively small, the best way of providing this service is to have users connect to the enterprise to look up addresses.
Most of what you’ll need to configure to provide mobile users access to contacts revolves around which directories to synchronize with and how often to synchronize. When a user updates a contact on his or her device ,should that change get propagated to an address book in the enterprise? If so, which one?
Instant Messaging is a useful business tool, allowing users to exchange short messages in real time without tying anybody down in a conversation. Some of the things you may be able to configure for this function include presence (whether users can see when other users are online), availability (whether they can see who is available), and location (whether information about users’ locations is displayed to other users).
Collaboration allows mobile users to share files and folders. Updates from one road warrior user can be viewed by others. This implies the right set of editing tools be available on each handset. The biggest difference brought on when mobility is involved is that you have to allow for offline collaboration. This creates some tricky situations when two or more users update the same file at the same time, which means you have to configure options to either lock files or resolve the conflicts with an acceptable set of rules.
Database Synchronization is something you’ll need when using sophisticated applications on mobile devices. If you run software specific to certain business processes, and a lot of data is involved, you’ll probably need a scaled-down relational database management system on the mobile device, which means you have to synchronize with an enterprise database.
Here your mobile enterprise server needs to be set up to map schemas between the two databases—you certainly don’t want to have an identical database on the small computing devices being carried around outside your company premises. You’ll also have to configure the server to synchronize between the two data stores and to resolve conflicts that occur when the same fields are updated by two or more different users.
Web Content. To provide Web content to mobile users, the easiest thing to do is to simply push Web pages as they are to the device and let the user scroll up and down and left and right to read each page. But if you’ve ever been the recipient on your handset of content intended for a large screen, you know how annoying this is to read. Avoid putting users though this if you can.
For newer content, the more savvy Web designers will make use of HTML tags specifying how content is to be presented on certain device types. This is why you are able to view so many public Web sites on your mobile device in a format that is relatively well suited to your handheld.
To make older Web content available on mobile devices, there are a variety of options offered by different enterprise servers. You can set up templates mapping content to screen locations based on the device type. This works best if you have a limited set of pages that might be displayed on the mobile device.