11 mobile tools for IT heroes on the go

These iOS and Android apps will keep your IT team productive, connected, and informed wherever they roam

11 mobile tools for hardcore IT pros on the go
Credit: Wikipedia
11 mobile tools for hardcore IT pros on the go

The need to provide more services, with fewer colleagues to help cover them, has meant being able to respond to user needs from nearly anywhere on earth at nearly any hour of the day. To this end, I’ve been collecting tablet-based IT tools that work well over lower-speed connections to ensure the work gets done wherever I roam.

Combined with the Sonicwall Mobile Connect SSL-VPN client, I have secure remote access and a collection of utilities to quickly respond to nearly anything my users throw at me. Whether you’re on the road for work or in Denali National Park on vacation, the following blend of heavy-duty IT iOS and Android apps will help keep you productive, connected, and informed.

Reflection
Reflection

The bedrock on-the-go tool for any IT admin is the one that provides easy, feature-rich access to the server fleet, regardless of which mobile platform they happen to have in their pocket or backpack at the time. Since iSSH was pulled from the App Store, iOS-inclined admins have been clamoring for an adequate replacement.

Reflection, originally developed by Walker Richer and Quinn (aka WRQ), is the tool you need. The folks at Attachmate, which has since taken over the app, have done a splendid job modernizing the Reflection Terminal emulator (Telnet and SSH) for both iOS and Android. Also if you’re in the IBM Mainframe world, TN3270 and TN5250 emulators are available.

Here are a few features that set Reflection apart, making it an enterprise-grade go-to:

  • Multiple windows
  • Multiple identities in a keychainlike arrangement
  • TouchID integration for iOS
  • VT52, VT102, VT400-7, and VT400-8 Terminal support
  • Even support for answerback strings

Price: Free
Developer: Attachmate
Availability: iOS | Android

Microsoft Remote Desktop
Microsoft Remote Desktop

Let’s face it: Unless you’re running VMware View VDI or Citrix Receiver to access XenDesktop installations, you probably need an RDP client to do those little emergency tweaks to your Windows machines.

What sets Microsoft Remote Desktop apart is how much of the RDP protocol has been implemented. This client supports remote apps (aka RAILS) and resource feeds, in addition to providing connections to the standard PC or server directly or via a gateway. Additionally this version now allows you to have multiple sessions open at the same time, including Azure sessions.

While I still can’t remember all the multitouch gestures yet, Microsoft’s RDP team has implemented nearly every mouse motion you might need -- a lot of gestures indeed.

Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft
Availability: iOS | Android

Signal
Signal

If you’re using pre-installed messaging and voice apps when discussing sensitive IT matters, you might want to think about tapping more secure channels. Especially if you’re traveling outside “friendly” territory, encrypting everything instead of only sensitive conversations won’t send up flags to industrial spies or government agents trying to beat your product to market. Luckily, secure messaging, chat, and voice apps abound for encrypting your communications. Signal is a great offering for making encrypted calls and sending encrypted messages on Android and iOS.

Compatible with the encrypted VoIP app RedPhone on Android, this free app provides secure SMS and voice communications based upon ZRTP, an open source encrypted streaming voice protocol. While Signal allows you to communicate with anyone on your contact list, only communications between fellow Signal (or RedPhone) users will be encrypted. As my colleague Fahmida Y. Rashid notes in “Maximum security: Essential tools for everyday encryption,” Signal’s developers offer a Chrome app to extend Signal’s secure messaging to PCs and Macs as well.

My only hesitation is this is software installed on the mobile device and it's only as secure as the device itself. Sorry, but as an ex-fed, having my encryption on a potentially untrusted platform is, in my mind, counterproductive. I for one am awaiting the ship date for XXLSec’s new PriveCall announced in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress.

Price: Free
Developer: Open Whisper Systems
Availability: iOS | Android

Unity Intercom
Unity Intercom

Unity Intercom is aimed at teams conducting multicamera video shoots, but it has great potential for IT as well. For example, you can use Unity Intercom to enhance physical security at your organization by having an encrypted intercom anywhere the company Wi-Fi system reaches. That way, cabling teams can have an intercom that extends way beyond the range of those cheap Family Radio Service devices. Unity Intercom also helps keep your event staff on the same page as you get ready to unveil your latest widget to the world.

Basically, all you need is a small server to act as a hub, then install the free app on your team’s iOS and Android devices or their full desktops. As long as you are all on the same Wi-Fi network, you’re good to go.

Price: Free
Developer: Audivero
Availability: iOS | Android

Evernote
Evernote

I equate Evernote to being able to carry my entire file cabinet with me, combined with an amazingly efficient admin assistant that has indexed and cross-referenced my mess. While Evernote may have lost its way in trying to sell logo wear, what hasn’t changed is that it’s still a superb note organization tool.

Whenever I toss a new server into the rack, I create a new note with my smartphone that has pictures of which cables went where, pictures of the insides of servers so that I know what RAM slots are available, and text describing any other easily forgotten details involved. This all goes into a folder that’s shared with my entire workgroup, where we also toss manuals, firmware files, screenshots of config items, and the kitchen sink. Then I can get onto the desktop edition to spruce it up, add details, and transform these initial, on-the-go jottings and pictures into a truly useful documentation tool for my project team.

If my boss needs to audit what we’re doing, I simply share it with him or her and get back to the important things in life -- like sharing really cool recipes I’ve also saved in a communal notebook.

Price: Free
Developer: Audivero
Availability: iOS | Android

Hours Keeper
Hours Keeper

Timesheets aren't for hourly workers only. Sometimes, you have a department or project that’s a bit picky about making sure they get their “pound of flesh” from you or your team. To that end Hours Keeper can help you keep track of how much time you spend on any given project.

Hours Keeper, which is available for both iOS and Android, offers clear reporting, and its interface allows you to either input timestamps manually or punch a time-clock-like interface that is protected either by a pin or on iOS by TouchID. Billable hours paperwork be gone!

Price: Free (Pro version $6.99)
Developer: Appxy
Availability: iOS | Android

WiFi Analyzer (Android only)
WiFi Analyzer (Android only)

Of all the apps that are part of this roundup, WiFi Analyzer is by far the one you will wish was available for both iOS and Android. But alas, it is Android-only. This tool solves so many Wi-Fi problems that I would recommend purchasing an inexpensive Android tablet simply so your techs can have this app.

Make sure your tablet has both 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz radios to add the icing to this truly tasty app. Simply showing users how their radios overlap with the guy next door has taken the wind out of many a blowhard’s sails and has convinced them to listen to reason for their “temporary” Wi-Fi installation. I’m especially fond of using this tool to find out who my Wi-Fi neighbors are at tradeshows so that I can do gentle negotiations in regard to power levels.

Price: Free
Developer: farproc
Availability: Android

ezNetScan (Android only)
ezNetScan (Android only)

EzNetScan is an Android network scanning tool that many other IT folks swear by, for good reason. It has quite a few separate tools combined into a single app. I’m fond of the tabs this app opens when you highlight a device giving you the option to bring up hardware, software, traceroute, ping, and freestyle device query that unfortunately is available only in the Plus version that is an extra $1.99 in the Google Play Store.

My only complaint is that scanning external networks is a bit clumsy, and you need to type in the actual network address and choose the correct CIDR from a pulldown menu. It's a a small stumbling item, but otherwise EzNetScan works as advertised. The good news is that the information displayed is as rich as if you were sitting there. I would also imagine that if you had an OTG adapter to use a USB Ethernet dongle, you could scan wired networks too.

Price: Free
Developer: VRSSPL
Availability: Android

ActiveDir Manager (Android only)
ActiveDir Manager (Android only)

While I would never advocate using such a utility without a VPN, even over TLS/SSL connections to an Active Directory server, ActiveDir Manager is a nice utility for performing password resets, account unlocking, and so with both on your phone or tablet. Sure, you could connect via SSL-VPN and open an RDP session, but ActiveDir Manager is mobile-optimized and much less problematic for anyone prone to fat-fingering their touchscreen keyboards.

Sadly, Beal Systems has chosen to target Android only with its ActiveDir Manager, because iOS apps that fulfill this niche all miss the boat. Most likely, a traveling tech who needs to respond quickly to panic calls for multiple Active Directory Trees will use this type of utility, and you’ll be heartened to know that Beal Systems has even included support for legacy Win2000 trees. While I’m hesitant to say Beal Systems has implemented a full mobile version of ActiveDirectory Users and Computers snap-in, ActiveDir Manager has enough features for you to put out a few AD fires from almost anywhere in the world over your VPN.

Price: $4.99
Developer: BealSystems
Availability: Android

Tado
Tado

Even big enterprise have smaller offices, and the natural reaction is to drop in a split-system air conditioner. While not quite as efficient as the chill-water system in your corporate tower, the cost of putting a split-system is dramatically cheaper than extending a chill-water loop to an out-of-the-way office. Tado not only gives your existing split systems intelligence to provide remote control, but also geographical-sensing capabilities to raise or lower the space cooling depending on the location of the occupants.

For instance, the development team could all have the Tado app on their smartphones and Tado can figure out when the last person has left for the day and gently raise the temp to reduce cooling costs. Then as the first person gets within a few miles of the facility, Tado will kick up the fans and cool off the space by the time they walk in the door. It gets even better when you bring in IFTTT to extend the intelligence to include weather conditions, or even with the addition of a Bloomsky weather station outside, to adjust the differences between inside and outside conditions for greater comfort.

Price: Free
Developer: Tado
Availability: iOS | Android

SeeedStudio Wio Link
SeeedStudio Wio Link

The Internet of things has great potential as an aiding technology for IT admins, capturing the imagination for potential use until you realize how much programming is typically involved. For instance, you might want something quick and dirty to check a plumbing repair across the wall from vital machines. Either way, as IT admins, we want to be able to toss around sensors without getting mired in soldering and programming. Enter SeeedStudio's Wio Link.

SeeedStudio’s kickstarter launch of Wio Link is finally caught up enough to take orders. Promising no hardware programming, no breadboard, no jumper wires, and no soldering, this click-and-go sensor system gets the data up into the cloud where you can look at the dashboard or, if you’re so inclined, harvest the data for more advanced uses with Python or a myriad of other programming interfaces. The basic Wio app is available for iOS or Android and will give you readings off your Grove plug-and-play, open source sensors and actuators attached to your Wio in an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface.

The collection of Grove-compatible sensors is simply staggering, all the way to various types of gas sensors, temp, humidity, door, soil moisture, and many more.

Wio Link setup is as simple as filling out a recipe from your collection of sensors and going to the Web portal to look at your data. With a full set of restful APIs, you can use your favorite system to visualize your data.

Price: Free
Developer: SeeedStudio
Availability: iOS | Android