by Jacqueline Emigh, Sm@rt Reseller
26 May 2000 - XcelleNet is now winding down the pilot phase of a new solution for reducing the peskiness of PDAs. XcelleNet's Afaria mobile management system will add support for Palm, Microsoft Pocket PC, and RIM (Research in Motion) devices through new client software set for release by the first week in June.
Afaria, a client-server software product for ASPs and corporate enterprises, formerly supported PCs only. Beyond the forthcoming Palm, Pocket PC, and RIM pager clients, XcelleNet also plans to support Symbian EPOC handhelds and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) phones, said Chris Foley, product line manager for Afaria. A working prototype of an Afaria client for EPOC is already up and running.
Foley characterized Afaria as the first full-blown system for centralized management of PDAs and laptop PCs. Specific capabilities include software distribution and maintenance, as well as asset management.
Industry analysts consider PDA management a key ingredient in controlling TCO (total cost of management). "When users see a price of $399, for instance, they tend to think that a WinCE or Palm device is inexpensive. They don't always consider the cost of ownership," noted Tim Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights.
"Now that handhelds are on the 'approved' list at many corporations, many IT folks are truly frightened about being asked to manage these devices, and to make sure the PDA applications are up-to-date," Scannell remarked. Compounding the problems inherent in administering multiple new hardware and operating systems is the fact that many corporate users put personal information and applications on these devices, according to the analyst.
A recent study by GartnerGroup put TCO at $2,790 per year for Windows CE PDAs and $2,690 for Palms.
Afaria's asset management function lets IT administrators see hardware information such as PDA device model, amount of memory, and battery status, as well as information about geographic location and which software applications are installed on the handheld.
"If a user has put Tiger Woods' golf program on there, the administrator's going to be able to find out," Foley illustrated. Afaria also includes a session scripting tool, for point-and-click creation of custom tasks.
Afaria will manage PDAs and laptops over either dial-up phone line connections or wireless nets. The software supports PalmVII devices via Palmnet, a wireless network which uses the BellSouth Wireless infrastructure.
Palm III and Palm V devices need to be outfitted with Novatel's Minstrel cradle modems in order to get support. XcelleNet will support both PocketPC and Palm III and V devices over CDPD wireless nets such as GoAmerica's, said Doug Marks, senior product manager for Afaria. The PocketPC devices also require third-party CDPD modems.
Features of Afaria's Blackberry client will initially be somewhat different, supporting one-way paging as opposed to two-way interactive communications. The Afaria server software will also ping the Blackberry client repeatedly to make sure that paging messages have been delivered, according to Foley.
A total of seven organizations are piloting the newly expanded Afaria, five of them in the US and two in Europe. Early adopters include Nationwide Financial Services, Hewlett-Packard, Pepsi UK, and Applicast, an ASP.
"We (also) see a lot of opportunity with large pharmaceutical firms," Foley added. In an Afaria-managed SFA (sales force automation) application, for instance, pharmaceutical sales reps might send captured signatures of physicians along with other documents directly from their PocketPC or Palm devices, he said.
In February, private equity firm Francisco Partners purchased XcelleNet from Sterling Commerce's Managed Systems Care Division. Since the acquisition, XcelleNet has also been working on positioning RemoteWare, a second product line-up, as a remote management solution for fixed installations such as branch offices and retail stores. Before being bought by Sterling a few years ago, XcelleNet was independently owned and operated.
Meanwhile, XcelleNet has also reached an OEM deal with Puma Technology, calling for Afaria's technology to be integrated into Puma's products. Puma recently added PDA synchronization capabilities to its software family, following its own acquisition of Intellisync. "We're now exploring synchronization, and you might see something from us in this area," Foley said.
XcelleNet is also in the process of forging partnerships for Afaria with both wireless ASPs and wireless service providers.