Network admin skills going mobile

As more mobile devices access the corporate network, IT administrators will have to pick up relevant skills to manage this growing demand.

With the increasing infiltration of mobile devices and related applications in corporate networks, IT administrators in Asia may soon have to suit up with relevant skills to manage this growing trend.

Akshay Amar Garkel, senior consultant for professional services at Datacraft India, told ZDNet Asia that the use of mobile devices to access various applications ranging from e-mail to business critical applications, is gaining widespread dominance in India. "Wide acceptance of mobile infrastructure solutions is growing in the industry today," Akshay added.

Neil Bamberger, IT manager for mobility solutions at Cisco Systems, said the network equipment vendor has seen a "massive increase globally" in the number of customers--from 9,000 to 24,000 within four years--using mobile messaging services on different platforms.

Bamberger said in an e-mail interview: "Mobile devices, as well as the services behind them, are becoming mission-critical in the enterprise."

However, industry players say the demand for network administrators specially trained and certified to support mobile devices, is not necessarily an urgent one just yet.

Adam Bowden from recruitment firm Robert Walters said there is a gradual increase in demand for IT administrators with the expertise to support devices such as RIM BlackBerry, on corporate networks.

Kang Eu Ween, Asia-Pacific enterprise solutions director at Juniper Networks said in an e-mail interview that demand for these network managers, however, "will not be immediate". He added: "Maybe much further down the year, or [such demand] may not even surface at all."

In addition to having the basic skills to support and manage employees who use mobile applications, it is important for administrators to have network security expertise.

Shalini Verma, research manager of communications research IDC Asia-Pacific, said letting business users access their e-mail and corporate information on mobile devices introduces security challenges for IT administrators.

Hence, Shalini said, they must have the know-how of maintaining data confidentiality. "IT managers will need to be familiar with the security risks and know the steps required to prevent network intrusion and removal of the data on the device, in case of device loss or theft."

Kang concurred, and noted that network administrators will have to provide a growing number of end-user mobile devices access to the corporate network. "This will mean an ever-increasing threat vectors for the administrator [so] security will become a top concern for the network administrators," he said.

Learning about wireless
While IT professionals looking to specialize in the mobile administration do not necessarily need any specific skills, they should pick up some knowledge in wireless and mobile technologies.

David Preece, IT engineer from Cisco's mobility solutions team, said the vendor does not offer certification specifically in the area of mobile administration. In an e-mail interview, Preece explained that most well-trained administrators already have the necessary expertise--acquired "from the desktop era"--in managing handheld devices and other computing devices within the corporate network. These include skills in setting up servers and devices, as well as integrating these systems with the corporate messaging infrastructure.

Experience as a battle-seasoned network administrator with a broad spectrum of skills is recommended, in other words. Preece said: "You just can't pick up a book to learn."

However, Datacraft's Akshay suggested that apart from the usual IP (Internet Protocol) networking skills, network administrators may benefit from picking up new knowledge. For example, they should have a general understanding of how wireless networking technologies including GSM, CDMA, 3G and WiMax, works and how mobile networks are integrated with the main corporate network.

"There are various other mobile skills on mobile security, XML (Extensible Markup Language) applications publications, SMS integration on enterprise servers and VoIP (voice over IP) integration with handheld phones, that are valuable. Skill sets on third-party mobile solutions from leading vendors such as Cisco Systems and AdaptiveMobile, could also be an added advantage for administrators."

Akshay advised IT administrators to consider upgrading courses that cover wireless technologies, mobile middleware interfacing with mobile applications, corporate mobile messaging and mail client integration.

Other useful skill include expertise in running and configuring third-party management suites. Juniper's Kang said: "Network administrators will come to rely more on technology such as Nokia Intellisync Device Management Suite, to perform this part of management for them. Such management suites will take care of policy enforcement, from issuing software patches to activating device lock-downs from a central location."

While Juniper currently does not offer mobile device management skills certification, he said the vendor may do so should the need arises in future.

However, network administrators should not expect a big salary jump with the extended skill sets.

Bowden at Robert Walters said: "There will be a slight increase in salaries for IT administrators as the skills required of them increases, but with salaries increasing across the board at present, there will not be a noticeable difference.

"IT professionals should see this as an opportunity to develop and improve the skill sets, rather than an incentive to increase their salary," he said.

Billy Teo is a freelance IT writer based in Singapore.

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