Providing secure e-mail and intranet access for mobile devices is a challenge. The Aventail Connect Mobile client makes the job a little easier by providing SSL VPN access for Windows Mobile and Windows Mobile devices.

The Connect Mobile client for Windows Mobile Pocket PC devices has been available for several months, but in May 2007, Aventail announced a Connect Mobile client for smartphones running Window Mobile. The final release is scheduled for August 2007, but I got my hands on a beta copy to test drive.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, CNET Networks currently uses Aventail’s SSL VPN devices. This situation allowed me to test the Connect Mobile client in a real-world environment.
Aventail Connect Mobile (Smartphone) configuring and connecting

The need to go beyond Outlook and ActiveSync

Sure, you can get Outlook e-mail and calendar information on your Windows Mobile device without a VPN connection. You can update the device via Microsoft ActiveSync. I don’t really like this option as it requires physical proximity to a network-attached computer or Wi-Fi network (depending on the device). You can access Outlook via Outlook Web Access (OWA). But face it, the browsing experience on most Windows Mobile devices is less than optimal. Users need a way to receive “push” e-mail through their carrier’s cellular network. And, IT departments need a way to securely provide this service.

Aventail Connect Mobile pros

To provide “push” e-mail, IT departments often use a BlackBerry solution or a third-party application like Good Mobile Messaging to connect the mobile device and Exchange. Although satisfactory systems, I think Aventail’s Connect Mobile solution has benefits BlackBerry and Good lack, such as the following:

  1. Aventail’s SSL VPN solution allows organizations to use a single remote access gateway to manage all remote devices–home office desktops, traveling laptops, and mobile phones/PDAs.
  2. Using the Connect Mobile client, you can receive push e-mail through Outlook Mobile Access (OMA).
  3. The Connect Mobile client provides remote access to intranet pages, files, and applications providing they work correctly on the mobile device.
  4. The client offers SSL encryption, access and admission controls, policy enforcement, and device watermarking.

Aventail Connect Mobile caveats

While there are plenty benefits to using Connect Mobile, there are also a few caveats.

  1. You must use Aventail’s SSL VPN. If you use another VPN solution, you may think twice about replacing your current system.
  2. No direct file access through Windows Mobile File Explorer. You can access files and applications that are linked to through an intranet page, but not using File Explorer.
  3. Users are required to reconnect depending on “time out” setting.

My experience

Aventail provided a Samsung BlackJack (SGH-i607) from AT&T to test the Connect Mobile client. The client came preloaded on the phone and configured for use with Aventail’s demo environment. As CNET uses Aventail’s SSL VPN, I erased the default settings and reconfigured the client to work with CNET’s VPN. The setup was extremely simple. Check out my gallery, “Aventail Connect Mobile (Smartphone) configuring and connecting“, for a complete, visual walkthrough of the Aventail Connect Mobile client.

I used the BlackJack and Aventail Connect Mobile client for three weeks and the client worked very well. Each morning, I would power on the phone and manually run the client and connect to the VPN. You can also configure the client to automatically start when you power on the device. Unless the phone dropped the cell connection, I would remain connected for the next 24 hours. E-mail synchronization went smoothly. In fact, e-mail routinely arrived on my mobile device before it hit my laptop’s Outlook inbox.

As an added bonus, I had full access to our corporate intranet. Once while traveling on vacation (without my laptop), I received several e-mail requests that required me to access a corporate intranet application. Each e-mail contained a link to the request within the application. I was able to access the application from the BlackJack’s Web browser and approve the requests. Had I not been able to access and approve these requests while riding in a cab from LaGuardia to my hotel, the requests would have languished in my inbox, until I returned to the office five days later.

My final word and pricing information

IT organizations that currently use Aventail’s SSL VPN and support Windows Mobile devices should seriously consider deploying the Connect Mobile client. Companies that currently use Aventail’s EX-750, can purchase a Connect Mobile license that supports 10 concurrent users for $995. Those without an Aventail SSL VPN can purchase a new EX-750 for $4,990, which includes the Connect Mobile license for 10 concurrent users. Owners of Aventail’s high-end EX-2500 get a Connect Mobile license for 100 concurrent users included with their purchase price, which starts at $22,995.