Mobile Messaging for Small Businesses
Because I write about technology for a living, it is extremely important to me that I keep my education current. This means that I routinely travel all over the world to send various conferences, training sessions, and to visit various companies to see how the technology is being applied in a real world environment. One of the problems with all of this travel though is that it is sometimes difficult to get my e-mail on the go. In the past, I simply used an out of office greeting asking my editors to call my cell phone if they need to talk to me while I am gone. This technique has worked well enough in the past, but more recently it has started becoming a bit of a problem. Besides that though, I have to say that it is embarrassing to be an Exchange Server expert and not use mobile messaging.
So What’s The Problem?
So why don’t I use mobile messaging like everyone else in the world? Well, one of the major underlying requirements for using mobile messaging is a client access server. In order to get to your client access server though, that server needs to be connected to a publicly accessible IP address. Unfortunately, I live in the middle of nowhere in one of the more rural parts of South Carolina. Where I live, there is a mom-and-pop ISP that has a total monopoly on telephone, cable TV, and Internet access. This company refuses to lease me a static IP address, and I can’t get Internet access through anyone else.
I’m sure that I can’t be the only one with this problem though. Static IP addresses tend to be expensive to lease, and they are becoming more difficult to come by. This means that a lot of smaller businesses find themselves in the same situation as I am in. Fortunately, there are a couple of workarounds.
One option that I have been looking into recently is dynamic DNS. In case you’re not familiar with dynamic DNS, it is a service that updates your DNS record every time your dynamic IP address changes. The basic idea behind this is that normally the only way that you can access a client access server if you have a dynamic IP address is to know which addresses being used at a given moment, and then enter that IP address into your Web browser directly, rather than typing a domain name.
Using a dynamic DNS service can get your around this limitation. Keep in mind though, but there are a lot of different dynamic DNS services available and that different services offer different capabilities and limitations. Almost any of the dynamic DNS services are suitable for allowing mobile users to access OWA on the go. Some may even be able to provide you with the necessary infrastructure to be able to use mobile devices.
One thing to keep in mind is that OWA servers normally use TCP port 80 for HTTP traffic. A lot of ISPs have caught on to customers who are using dynamic DNS, and have set up firewall rules to block inbound traffic on port 80 as a way of keeping customers from running their own Web servers. If you run into this type of limitation then I would recommend looking for a dynamic DNS service that allows you to access standardized Web servers over nonstandard ports. I don’t want to recommend any specific providers, but I will tell you that providers do exist that offer these capabilities.
For my own organization I chose to use a method that works a little bit better for my lifestyle. After doing some research, I discovered that my cell provider offers an add on for Outlook 2007. This add-on automatically transmits a copy of any e-mail that I received to my mobile device, by using SMS messages. I am able to view the messages, along with my calendar and task list in the same way that I would if I were using Exchange ActiveSync.
Since this sounds like an ideal solution, you may be wondering what the catch is. There are actually two different negative aspects to using this method. One of course, is more expensive cell phone bills. The type of service that I described works really well, but if you needed to enable it for more than a couple of users that we get expensive really quickly.
The other problem with using this method is that it requires users to keep Outlook open, which means that the users have to stay logged in when they are out of the office if they want to receive mail on the go. Given that I work out of my house, this isn’t really a problem for me, but it could be an issue in an office environment.
As you can see, the lack of a static IP address can be a major obstacle to using mobile messaging. Fortunately, there are released a couple of different workarounds that are available for those who can not get a static IP address.
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