With enterprises rapidly expanding across the country or across the globe, mobility strategies have moved to front and center for most businesses. In fact, a recent Forrester Research "Trends" survey notes that 80% of enterprises plan to set a mobile and wireless strategy policy this year.*
But businesses are already feeling the tech crunch when it comes to mobile workers: a recent Business Process Forum survey uncovers that 50% of mobile workers have missed a business opportunity due to slow communications.
So how do enterprises act fast to accelerate the performance of applications for their mobile workers, using a tool that will fit into their long-term strategy? This article provides three alternatives that are on the market today, designed to accelerate and simplify file sharing and/or application access for mobile workers.
Strategy 1: File Replication to the laptop. The most basic products allow you to replicate certain files or folders to an individuals' laptop. The result, not surprisingly, is that access to these files is local and fast. This basic option is even included in the Windows operating system, but other products on the market provide additional ease-of-use functions and a better user interface. The other benefit of this approach is that files that might be centralized are available when the user is not connected to a network.
There are a few cons to this approach. Foremost, replication only works for files, and cannot accelerate applications such as e-mail, CRM systems, or document management systems. File replication tools put a certain amount of control into the hands of the end user: he or she must interact with the application to determine what is being replicated locally. Once the files are replicated locally, there will very likely be version control issues if these are files that multiple people might edit. For example, an off-line mobile worker may make edits to a document, only to log back on and find that someone else has edited the original file. There are now two versions of the document that must be manually merged.
Strategy 2: File caching on the laptop. A slightly more advanced technique, file caches act as proxies to file servers, allowing a user to access local copies of a file without having to manage any replication processes. Files are copied locally the first time the user accesses them. Future accesses then have local performance - and save bandwidth every time that same file is accessed.
File caching software that lives on a user's laptop also only works for files, similar to strategy #1. It simplifies the end-user experience, but still may result in version control issues. Multiple people might try to save a file at the same time, creating a conflict for the origin server. File caches also have difficulties with file changes. Small changes to a file or a name change can invalidate the file copy that is stored locally, and then the file cache must pull all of the data across the wide area network (WAN) again. In addition, many file caching approaches have a complex administrative burden requiring the client to be manually configured to act as a proxy to the server.
Strategy 3: Mobile wide-area data services (WDS). Mobile WDS solutions take a slightly different approach. Combining elements of data reduction, TCP optimization, and application protocol optimization, these solutions accelerate the performance of any application - file sharing, email, Web-based applications - to give mobile workers LAN-like performance speeds. They simultaneously reduce the amount of bandwidth utilized and overcome latency by masking the inefficiencies in transport and application protocols. All of these optimizations result in dramatic performance increases, even when low bandwidth might not be a major issue.
Mobile wide-area data services (WDS) solutions provide the greatest breadth in terms of applications accelerated. In general, these solutions are also designed to require few or no changes to the end-user environment as well. For these reasons, WDS solutions are worth an in-depth look. There are two main considerations for this type of solution: they require an appliance at the data center, and they require WAN connectivity. The appliance at the data center works with the software on the mobile user's laptop in order to perform the optimizations. And because these solutions always request data from the origin application server or file server (unlike file caches), WAN connectivity is required. For most mobile workers, that isn't an issue, since wireless hotspots, DSL connections, and even cell phones that can be used as modems abound.
What solution is right for your business? If your mobile workers simply need access to a set of files, and if those files are templates or catalogue-type materials that are "write once, read many," solutions like file replication or file caching can work for you. If your mobile workers require access to a broader set of applications, and need the ability to work collaboratively with other mobile workers or employees at an office location, consider a WDS solution.
*Source: Forrester, June 1, 2007, Trends "Buyers Yearn For Enterprise Mobility Leadership"
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