The debate is intensifying about the role the Apple iPad will play and whether or not the tablet device has what it takes to make it as a business tool. While the consumer vs. business device debate is passionate, the battle between Apple and Microsoft loyalists makes it pale in comparison. So, it borders on sacrilege to suggest that the Apple iPad could be an effective tool for remotely administering a Microsoft Windows network.
One of the reasons that iPhone apps are such powerful tools for IT administrators is that the iPhone is almost always available. A notebook computer may not be handy when an IT administrator is having lunch with co-workers, offsite attending a training conference, or home watching the Final Four--but it's almost a guarantee that the iPhone is within arm's reach.
From that perspective, the iPad won't be as convenient as the iPhone, however it will still be more convenient than a netbook and it resolves the limitations inherent in the iPhone. The iPad is thinner and lighter than a netbook, and has the instant on-capabilities of the iPhone, but with the display real-estate of a notebook--a powerful combination for remote networking.
One iPad app for Windows administrators that is already available in the App Store is WinAdmin, iPad Edition. Like its iPhone app equivalent, the WinAdmin iPad app provides a Microsoft Windows RDP (remote desktop protocol) client to connect with remote Windows systems.
Using WinAdmin, an IT administrator can use the iPad to RDP into servers to troubleshoot and resolve issues, review logs, or change configuration settings. WinAdmin can also be used to RDP to Windows desktops to run applications or access important files, all in the palm of your hand from the iPad.
There are business apps flooding the App Store right alongside games and entertainment apps. However, Apple hasn't given developers much time between the announcement of the iPad, the release of the iPad SDK, and tomorrow's launch of the iPad. Developing apps that can integrate seamlessly and securely with an enterprise network takes a little more time and testing than iPad games.
The good news for business app developers is that the "business" version of the iPad--the iPad with both Wi-Fi and 3G networking--won't be available for a few weeks still. Consumers may be just fine with Wi-Fi only, but business professionals really should invest the additional $130 for the 3G-enabled iPad just as an insurance policy. With no contractual commitment, the 3G access can be enabled as needed when no Wi-Fi is available, then canceled as soon as the need is over.
One app that is not yet available, but has significant promise for leveraging the iPad to connect with Microsoft Windows systems is Array Networks Desktop Direct. I spoke with the team at Array Networks and found that they are hard at work on the iPad version of the app, but they want to be sure that what they develop fully capitalizes on what is capable with the iPad rather than simply making a bigger version of the iPhone app.
The iTeleport for iPad app is another example of an app that essentially provides a streaming remote session to connect with a Windows or Mac based system over a Wi-Fi or 3G wireless network. The $24.99 app provides VPN-access and enables the iPad to connect with, access, and control computer systems from the other side of the world.
The closer we get to the availability of the 3G-enabled iPad, the more you will see robust and innovative business apps becoming available. It may be from Apple, and it may not be a "real" computer, but it will be used as a business tool, and IT administrators can take advantage of the benefits of the iPad to manage Windows networks from wherever they may be.