Using a Tablet as a Portable Management Console

With the dozen or so tablet computers on the market, surely you have one by now. If not, you really must buy one. Tablets are not only lightweight, ultra-portable, and capable of performing any remote administrative tasks, but they also give you that freedom that you never had before. But, that freedom that you so desperately seek might also bring along a lengthier chain attached to it. How can you have both freedom and a chain attached? System administrators understand the concept like no other technology professional.

In the “old” days, you carried a pager that tethered you to your workplace. It was lightweight, handy, and relatively inexpensive to deploy and maintain. A needy customer, user, or manager always had you within reach, if needed. And, no matter how far away you fled, somehow the signal could reach you.

During the post-pager revolution (The 1990s), you received a new device that offered two-way communications: The ubiquitous cell phone. The cell phone could not only initiate and receive voice messages but text messages as well. The chain tightened just a bit more with that kind of access.

Today, not only is your cell phone your constant companion, it’s capable of voice, text, video, email with attachments, and applications to connect you to your corporate environment from almost anywhere.

Still, it’s not enough. A phone is limited in size and usability for complex tasks. But, there’s a solution: A tablet computer.

The tablet computer is the new portable sweat shop. You’re chained to the job. You’re available 24/7x365 with a device that can deliver what you need for almost as long as you need it with no wired tethers. You are free to roam about as long as you either have a WiFi or cellular connection within reach of your location. And, these days, that’s available almost anywhere you go.

Tablet Selection

My personal tablet computer of choice is the Apple iPad because of its support, popularity, and extensive app selection (all screenshots and apps shown are Apple iPad 1). The iPad has many advantages over its competitors and a single, but significant, disadvantage: Price. The iPad is expensive but its usability, stability, and market uptake make up for a large part of its price disparity.

Mobile Flash support is no longer a disadvantage of Apple’s products because Adobe recently announced that they are dropping support for Flash on mobile platforms.
You can remove some of the cost issue by purchasing the 16GB model with WiFi and 3GB for US$ 629 (iPad 2). The original iPad similarly equipped costs about half that amount. Don’t worry about the 16GB of space on the iPad because space is not at such a premium. Most apps only consume a few megabytes of space. One year after purchasing my iPad, I have used less than 4GB of my 32GB, and I have hundreds of apps, a few songs, and two movies on it.

If you don’t like, or can’t afford, Apple’s iPad, you have several choices in the Android market or HP’s TouchPad with its webOS is a bargain these days.
Before selecting a tablet, check out available system administrator-oriented client applications such as VPN, SSH, RDP, VNC, VMware View, Citrix Receiver, DaaS, Database tools, and network testing tools.

In the Toolbox

System administrators require a complete set of tools on any device used for support. Up to now, the support burden rested on the laptop computer. The tablet, as a support device, must have the capability of connecting to the corporate network via VPN or other secure portal and of providing the sys admin with an equivalent array of client and diagnostic tools with which to work.

Fortunately, app programmers and tablet vendors anticipated the need to use the tablet for something more useful than an Angry Birds game console. The iPad’s App Store hosts dozens of sys admin tools, only a few of which are showcased here.

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