Nothing ruins a party faster than the database admin who gets paged in the middle of it and has to lug out the laptop, connect to the home office and reboot a server. Craig Welch, a DBA at Cinergy, says he had no life because, as the only Oracle administrator at his company, "even when I wasn't on call, I was on call." What freed Welch from being chained to the servers was a piece of software from Expand Beyond Corp. called PocketDBA, which turns his PDA into a wireless command-and-control device for his servers. It is to an Oracle database what the remote control is to a TV set.
Ari Kaplan, CEO, cofounder and acting chief technology officer at Expand Beyond, invented the product after a "eureka moment" while he toiled on databases at US Robotics, the company that at the time made PalmPilots. Having built some of the biggest databases in the world (at Merck, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, in the military and for a quarter of Major League Baseball teams, for example) Kaplan knew Welch's lack-of-social-life status. "I was living the hard life too," he says. (Kaplan also built databases for Hallmark. Your e-card-giving holidays were his hell days.) His software is elegant, with some iconic command functions for reboot, shut down, start up and other basic functions. But it can also be a workhorse by letting the IT manager switch into Unix command line function.
Kaplan says it was quite easy to port the software over from databases to general server terminal functions. That port became the product PocketAdmin, which Welch says he often uses on his commute to work. The process of lugging out the laptop and remotely managing servers, which could take more than a half hour at a time -- and only if he found a place to connect -- has been reduced to a five-minute stylus-wielding session he can take care of at stop lights, he says.
Convenient was just about a touch too convenient, however. Welch had to fit the technology with a second factor of authentication before his security team let him use it. (Kaplan claims the company has wireless security worked out, though, and that many of the concerns about wireless being open to hackers sweeping minidishes through the air are nothing more than urban legends. That may or may not be true, but not listing security as a concern about wireless is a mistake, and any IT department worth its salt will give the technology a thorough review on the security front before putting it on all the IT department's handheld devices.)
Kaplan says there are other hurdles to consider as well. One is a lack of education about wireless technology, which while growing rapidly is still a young market and is still focused largely on the everyday consumer. Wireless communication standards must also mature, he says. If he doesn't want to face more hurdles, Kaplan must also add support for databases other than Oracle's, like DB2 and Microsoft SQL databases. He says the company is doing that right now.
The company isn't going to be alone in its space either. PocketDBA and PocketAdmin are just two of the first applications in a new class of applications for handheld devices, says IDC's Kevin Burden, program manager for smart handheld devices services. (IDC, based in Framingham, Mass., is a sister company to CIO's publisher, CXO Media.)
"People use handheld devices to make themselves mobile; an enterprise should use them to mobilize applications, not people," he says. "These applications do it, and Expand Beyond has a head start on the market."
And Craig Welch can once again go to parties without fearing that the irritating buzzer on his hip will wake up and ruin his night.