Mobility

SolutionBase: Making your Treo and Exchange work together

Treo's work well for mobile computing users that want to retrieve their email on the go. Getting the Treo to work with Exchange requires you to jump through a few extra hoops. Here's what you need to know.

When considering the potential benefits of a partnership between the handheld and the mail service, it does appear that all kinds of good things can come from it. From real time access to email to the ability to always walk around with a current, updated calendar, integrating the two devices can bring increased productivity to the table.

VersaMail is a client for your Treo handheld that lets you use POP or IMAP mail servers in conjunction with your device. However, it's not always easy to get a Treo and an Exchange server working in perfect harmony. Here's how you can do so.

A good solution

For organizations that need to deal with more than a few—perhaps dozens, hundred, etc.—Treos, the thought of needing to manually handle each unit (especially more than once) is probably a little overwhelming. Between troubleshooting email connection problems (a la VersaMail) to the possibility of losing sensitive data that might be stored on the Treo, the decision might come down to "no" as far as remote email and support of these devices goes.

A company called Good has a solution. Besides a website chock full of nifty buzzwords, Good sells a product called GoodLink, which provides wireless messaging capabilities that work very nicely in Exchange environments. GoodLink provides a plethora of features, a few of which I will describe in a bit. Even better GoodLink works with any Treo 600 or 650 in your organization and works identically with Windows powered handhelds as well. This means that you can roll out a single solution for many of today's most popular handhelds.

In the rest of this section, I'll describe GoodLink's technical features and provide information on how GoodLink can be used to improve the security of handhelds in your organization. After all, like a laptop, a handheld can contain personal information about clients that, in the wrong hands, could be a PR disaster for your company.

Note that there are three editions of the GoodLink software: GoodLink 4.0, described in detail here, as well as the Hosted Edition and the Small Business Edition. I've made notes about some of the differences in the text of the article, but the main article text describes GoodLink 4.0, the main product for large enterprises.

GoodLink technical info

You might be wondering what sets GoodLink apart from some other potential solutions, such as VersaMail. Unlike VersaMail, which consists primarily of a client installed on the handheld from which connections are made to POP3 or IMAP services, GoodLink is installed on one of an organization's central servers. Instead of a handheld connecting directly to a mail server and downloading messages, the server-based arrangement provides a huge amount of additional functionality.

The GoodLink server requires its own Exchange user and mailbox and watches activity in other handheld-using Exchange user's mailboxes. Upon detection of activity, all pertinent information is forwarded to the user's handheld through the GoodLink operations center. Further, as Exchange users have come to expect, the mail also continues to reside on the server for later access by Outlook or another client. The synchronization goes both ways. Any changes made on the handheld are synchronized in real time back to the Exchange server.

The GoodLink infrastructure is comprised of a number of different components all working together to provide your handheld users with what they need. These components include:

  • GoodLink Server : The GoodLink Server is the software responsible for actually doing the work of making sure that the contents of a user's Exchange mailbox is replicated to that user's handheld. You can run as many GoodLink Servers as needed to support the number of wireless devices in your organization. The GoodLink documentation outlines minimum system requirements (outlined below) for a GoodLink Server that supports up to 200 users. Higher server specs will result in more users supported on a single server.
  • GoodLink Management Server: Only one Management Server is needed for a GoodLink deployment. This component is responsible for handling the users for which the GoodLink service will be used as well as for their handheld devices.

For both the GoodLink Server and the GoodLink Management server supporting 200 users, Good recommends a machine with at least 800MHz of horsepower, 512 MB of RAM, and 8 GB of available disk space. For each additional user, plan on a server with 1.5 MB more RAM and an additional 40 MB of available disk space.

The GoodLink Server and the GoodLink Management server can run on the same machine, but can't run on a system that houses Exchange. Further, the system cannot have the Outlook client installed.

Windows 2000 Server (SP2+) or Windows Server 2003 is required. This server (or servers, as the case may be), must be able to connect to the Internet via one of ports 443, 3101, or 4663 (for secure HTTP connections to the GoodLink Operations Center) and must be able to connect to the IP address range 216.136.156.65 to 216.136.156.96. Make sure to have a decent wired network between the GoodLink servers and your Exchange servers to prevent delays in communication.

Major components you'll have as part of a GoodLink solution include:

  • GoodLink Management Console: Every GoodLink administrator can have the Management Console, which is just a nifty front end for the Management Server component. The Management Console can run on any version of Windows equal to or above Windows 2000 SP2.
  • GoodLink client software: The GoodLink client software is installed on the user's handheld and provides an environment that Good calls "Outlook-like". GoodLink supports both wired and wireless (they call it Over The Air or OTA) rollouts of the client software. Any Treo 600 or 650 or Windows Powered PocketPC will do. A Treo 600 requires just under 13 MB of available RAM while a 650 needs just under 15 MB for a full, first-time installation. A Pocket PC needs 2.5 MB of storage AM and a little under 9 MB of program RAM available. Make sure the battery is close to a full charge before you install the GoodLink software. Also, refer to the Good website for notes relating to the ROM revision level for any Treo 600's you support. Specific revision levels required for different carriers are provided.
  • Exchange Server: GoodLink supports all versions of Microsoft Exchange from Exchange 5.5 SP4 all the way to Exchange 2003 SP1. Note that the Small Business version of Exchange is not supported by the full GoodLink product. However, GoodLink recently announced the GoodLink SBS Edition which allow you to install the GoodLink Server components right on your Microsoft Small Business Server with Exchange.
  • GoodLink Operations Center: You don't need to build you own GoodLink Operations Center. Just use theirs. Your GoodLink Servers actually communicate with the GoodLink Operations Center which, in turn, communicates with any and all handhelds that use the company's software. This data center is the reason you need to allow HTTPS from the GoodLink Server and make sure that the server can communicate with the IP address range indicated earlier.

GoodLink security

If you're concerned about the potential security risks inherent in blasting your company's sensitive information out over the airwaves of the wireless carriers, give yourself a pat on the back. As any reasonable company these days would, Good provides many different layers of security to protect their customer's data. If they didn't, they wouldn't be around for long!

First, you've already seen that communication between your GoodLink Server and the GoodLink Operations Center operates over HTTPS, providing a secure communications tunnel.

Second, in these days of attacks, everyone has a firewall and the GoodLink Operations Center is no exception. And, if you're concerned about security, you too probably have a corporate firewall in place and will install the GoodLink Server behind this device.

Next, the whole of the GoodLink architecture, from the GoodLink Server down to the handheld, requires no less than three separate authentications: Operations Center and your server, the user's handheld and the Operations Center, and then a complete-trip pass requiring the handheld to then authenticate against your GoodLink Server.

On the handheld device, the GoodLink software can be password protected so that only an authorized user can view the information, even if the device is stolen. And, since hackers will eventually find a way to get what they want, the GoodLink client can actually erase all Good-related data on the handheld after a certain number of failed password attempts. If a device does get stolen, you can also take more proactive steps by using the GoodLink Management Console and sending a command to the lost handheld to wipe itself clean of all Good information.

The user experience

All of the technical goodness aside, the product would seriously suffer if it sucked for your staffers, right? Fortunately, Good has that angle covered as well. Besides providing communications support over practically any wireless network, whether it be CDMA, GPRS, BlueTooth, or whatever, the GoodLink client also provides the ability to do things like view message attachments such as pictures and documents. Further, the client supports the ability to selectively download both full messages and attachments. If you don't feel like waiting for that 60-page email to download, skip it and read it in the office; you don't need to download it to the handheld and waste your bandwidth.

With optional server software, you can also use the handheld's GoodLink client to access back-end database systems. I'm not going over that capability here since this is an Exchange and Treo integration article.

When used as a pure remote message reader, the GoodLink client goes so far as to report message status back to the GoodLink Server and thus, to the Exchange server. For example, if you read a message on your handheld, the GoodLink Server will have that message marked as "read" in your inbox the next time you load Outlook.

In my experience, I've found that users really like this. They don't want to read a hundred messages only to come in the next day and have to figure out which ones they've already handled. Further, tasks, calendar items, notes and contacts all work under the two-way synchronization model used by GoodLink. You can change information anywhere and it's automatically reflected everywhere.

How much will GoodLink cost me?

At first blush, this will sound like a big number: GoodLink carries a list price of $330 per year per user. Now, before you say "No way", consider this: that's all you have to pay for. The server component is included in that price. Business hours support is included in that price. The client server software is included in that price. It's all-inclusive. Personally, I like all-inclusive. I like to know up front that I'm getting everything I need and not have to mess around with add-ons and options.

Of course, before you blindly pay $330 for a bunch of users, call Good and see if you can get a discount of some kind.

Summary

For $330 per user, the Good solution stacks up well against competitors such as Blackberry's Enterprise Server.

At the end of the day, if you're supporting a modest number of handheld users, your total hardware investment can consist of as little as a single server, and, since GoodLink Server doesn't need anything massive, you might even already have adequate hardware. Of course, you'll also need handhelds and a Windows PC to manage the service.

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