Mobile Information Server: Unfulfilled Promise
Although Mobile Information Server works well, it’s too hobbled by limited interoperability with other Non-WAP devices and application support.
- By David W. Tschanz
- February 01, 2002
Ask most companies what their most critical business
application is, and the odds are that they will say “e-mail.”
Reality Two: Increased mobility was one of the hallmarks of the
20th century, and it appears that this will only intensify in the 21st.
Reality Three: For these mobile workers, daily access to critical
applications isn’t always easy to find. Tools such as Outlook Web Access
meet some of the need (when they can be accessed), but they’re not enough.
Add these up and the sum is that wireless data access is on the verge
of becoming a critical business tool in need of a solution. To address
this, Microsoft released Mobile Information Server 2001 (MIS) to provide
the capability to wireless-enable existing Windows or Web-based applications,
including Exchange 2000 and Exchange 5.5.
High on Potential, Low on Delivery
Despite the seemingly unlimited conceptual potential, MIS’ first release
offers nothing dramatically new. It only works with WAP 1.1 (Wireless
Application Protocol) devices, typically cellular phones or PDAs. The
only out-of-the-box application is Outlook Mobile Access, which enables
users to browse the contents of, and receive notifications from, their
MIS depends on Active Directory and must be run on Windows 2000 Server
or Advanced Server. Outlook Mobile Access requires Exchange 5.5 or Exchange
2000 with SP1. Both messaging servers support browsing, but only Exchange
2000 supports notifications.
MIS comes in two versions: Enterprise Edition, intended for installation
in conjunction with an Exchange server, and Carrier Edition, aimed at
mobile operators. Each edition can be deployed independently; but, when
combined, they offer enhanced security. This is accomplished by sending
notifications and messages over a secure IPSec connection between the
enterprise and the carrier MIS, as well as acknowledging that the notification
has reached the carrier.
Setup is relatively easy, creating a Mobile Inbox folder amid the standard
Outlook folders. Using rules, specific messages can be forwarded to the
mobile inbox and notifications (via SMS prompts), then immediately sent
to a WAP device. The mobile user has access to all the mail in his account
and can configure the account to enable notifications for important messages.
MIS can also send notifications from a corporate network to a carrier
network via SMTP, where they’re converted to SMS messages and forwarded.
In addition to providing access to mailboxes, MIS enables wireless access
to intranet pages formatted using Wireless Markup Language (WML). Sites
can be accessed and browsed using the Internet Browse Sites tab on the
MIS installation properties in the MMC snap-in.
Not Ready for Prime Time
While MIS provides a promising framework for delivering networked resources
and services to wireless devices, it’s clearly only a beginning and, in
its current form, a bit of a disappointment.
While it works well with WAP devices, WAP can be a poor means of accessing
enterprise data. Because wireless network coverage can be unpredictable,
MIS would be more useful if it supported synchronization and offline data
access for Palm OS, Pocket PC, and Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) devices.
Mobile Information Server 2002: A Step Closer
Let's be honest: MIS 2001 wasn't really ready for the
market and the market responded with a collective yawn
After taking stock (and noticing both the negative
comments and lagging sales from enterprise customers
and wireless carriers) Microsoft has decided to reposition
MIS as a platform for using Exchange and custom .NET
applications to enable mobile-device solutions.
MIS 2002 Enterprise Edition contains three core features:
Browse, Notify and Server Active Sync. Mobile devices,
such as mobile phones, pagers and PDAs, browse corporate
resources, such as Exchange 2000 and Exchange 5.5 mailboxes
and intranet Web site through the Browse Feature. Notify
enables MIS to send notifications about e-mail messages,
changes in task and contacts and messages from custom
applications. MIS uses Server ActiveSync to synchronize
Pocket PC 2002 devices with some Exchange 2000 folders,
allowing Pocket PC 2002 users to synchronize their devices
over an intranet or wireless carrier with a high degree
of security based on HTTPS.
The product requires a device equipped with either
Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) or the planned Microsoft
Mobile Explorer (MME) browser. Users of WAP-enabled
devices send requests through a WAP gateway to an MIS
Server. The WAP Gateway translates the WAP request (which
is in Wireless Markup Language (WML) to HTTP or HTTPS
asking for resources from the MIS server. MME-based
devices will not need the WAP gateway but will be able
to send an HTTP request directly to the MIS server,
allowing access to the requested material.
In MIS 2001 the notification functionality was provided
by Microsoft Outlook Mobile Manager (MOMM) through its
desktop-based notification engine. In MIS 2002, notification
is provided as a server-based function, eliminating
the need for MOMM.
While MIS 2002 is still as limited in its breadth of
scope as MIS 2001, it appears that Microsoft has made
a deliberate policy decision to focus on the three key
features of Browse, Notify and Synchronize. In doing
so it has signaled an intention to incrementally refine
this product and eventually fulfill its promise.
If you want to experiment with an MIS platform, MIS
2002 is vastly superior to MIS 2001.
—David W. Tschanz
In its present incarnation, MIS isn’t quite ready for prime time except
in a very limited set of scenarios. MIS does a good job of extending Exchange
data to WAP devices, but that isn’t enough. The lack of interoperability
and the paucity of applications severely restrict the server’s actual
usability and capabilities. There’s a lot of promise here, but it remains
David W. Tschanz, Ph.D., MCSE, is author of the recent "Exchange Server 2007 Infrastructure Design: A Service-Oriented Approach" (Wiley, 2008), as well as co-author of "Mastering Microsoft SQL Server 2005" (Sybex, 2006). Tschanz is a regular contributor to Redmond magazine and operates a small IT consulting firm specializing in business-oriented infrastructure development.