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From remote data access to electronics reference tools, these Android apps come in handy for IT pros on the go
10 great Android apps for IT pros
In the my previous roundup of IT tools for Android, I was a annoyed about having to root my Android tablets to make them useful in the enterprise. In the 18 months since, the 2013 Nexus 7 has proved amazing, and the Moto X is a great smartphone -- both of which are reasonably priced and unlocked.
This isn’t to say other Android phones and tablets aren’t also good, but the Nexus 7 with LTE from T-Mobile gives me the power and connectivity to fix just about any minor IT problem remotely, earning it a permanent place in my cargo pocket -- and on my list of essential “MacGyver IT” troubleshooting tools.
Here are the apps every Android-wielding IT pro should know about.
Dell Sonicwall Mobile Connect
I’ve been using Sonicwall gear in my lab for years, and being able to VPN into my lab has been critical for remote-troubleshooting my projects. Simply put, SonicWall Mobile Connect is the mobile version of the Sonicwall NetExtender SSL-VPN client. With SSO (single sign-on) capability, external authentication (including Active Directory), and a superb portal, the Sonicwall SSL-VPN solution has become my standard way to provide remote data access for my researchers.
Meta Geeks inSSIDer
Meta Geeks inSSIDer is yet another Meta Geeks home run. I’ve been using the Meta Geeks Wi-Spy for years; it’s the best USB-based spectrum analyzer I’ve ever seen, but for laptops.
The inSSIDer Android app is a must-have tool for every WiFi installer, replacing WiFi Anayzer on my Nexus 7 as a super-portable WiFi tool that’s always on me. The screenshot shows how a 2.4GHz spectrum should look like with access points only on channels 1, 6, or 11. Anything else means you’re degrading the WiFi experience for everyone around you by stomping on their signal. I’ve been running the free version for a year, but the new paid version offers great features that make it well worth the $9.99...
Microsoft Remote Desktop
Microsoft is finally releasing a native RDP client for mobile platforms, including Android and iOS. The screenshot is more of a version history, but this is the info you need to pay attention to. RDP is rarely mentioned with its version number, but that version number helps you find what features you can use. Reference the Wikipedia entry to see if you can get bidirectional audio, multi-touch, network-level authentication, and other features you take for granted on a desktop. Remote desktops are far from simple and this newest version also let’s me leverage the graphics processer in my Nexus 7 (or Android stick) so that 3D images or video can look as sharp on my mobile device...
There are lots of spirit-level apps out there, and while I’ve been tempted to change, Ben Zibble’s Bubble is simple and, most importantly, speaks the angle once it’s stable. I can use this over my head or under the raised floor and not need to see the display.
The analog version of this used to hang in my office for years and this handy free app makes sure that when I call my friends in other countries that I don’t unintentionally wake them up. Since I live in Hawaii, I really hate when easterners keep calling me first thing in the morning, which translates to 2 a.m. in Hawaii. It’s way too easy to extend the courtesy of time-zone awareness; just get the Daylight Zone app, and you’ll know at a glance what parts of the world are still dark.
If you’re a maker or a tinkerer you should at least get the free version of ElectroDroid. This app houses a huge collection of electronics reference material, but what really sets it apart are active sections, including voltage dividers, reactance/resonance calculators, resister ratios, series/parallel resister calculators, capacitor charge, power dissipation -- the list goes on and on. So when I’m tinkering on a project, like building a GPS-synchronized NTP clock with 3-foot tall numbers, this is the tool that helps me make sure I don’t blow up my battery pack. (The $2.79 ElectroDroid Pro adds a few features and gets rid of the ads.)
An odd play on “ping,” Fing does a great job of enumerating the devices on your network by using MAC address lookups and checking what open ports are available. The Android version does a great job, but Overlook, the app’s creator, would like you to sign up for the cloud version (Home, Pro, or Enterprise) to enable storage and correlation from multiple sentinels (aka versions of Fing you’re running in Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, or Raspberry Pi). Fing can monitor various services by checking ports either on demand or at regular intervals. Not a Science Logic EM7 by any stretch, but Fing is a solid tool that has grown beyond just a single app on a single machine.
HP iLO Mobile
Not everyone runs an enterprise-grade Gen8 HP Server with iLO Version 4, but I’m running two right now, and being able to get a full set of out-of-band (IPMI) hardware information (heat, power, fans, etc.) is a godsend. I use Sonicwall Mobile Connect to VPN into my lab network, and then start up HP iLO Mobile to get a remote console and environmental conditions; it has changed the way I work. No more having to bring a full laptop everywhere I go (kind of embarrassing to have to take one to a dinner party). Plus, because the remote console requires .Net, it won’t run on a Mac (without VMware Fusion, Parallels, etc.), but it runs just fine on my Nexus 7....
Receiver for Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp has been around a bit longer than Remote Desktop; in fact, Receiver can trace its heritage back to the old WinFrame days and a customized version of Windows NT v3.51. Like RDP, Receiver has changed radically over the years, but this version can certainly support the upcoming VDI world and pop up an app window running something like AutoDesk Revit 3D since Receiver is handling the keyboard+mouse+video from the virtual desktop back in your data center.
I’m getting older, and I certainly don’t want to damage my hearing any more than necessary. So to that end I want to at least get a ballpark estimate of just how loud it is in the data centers I work in. The free Sound Meter app is nice because it compares the current reading to everyday items. (Well not that many people are close to the Space Shuttle, but you get the idea anyway.) I would strongly consider borrowing a real sound pressure meter so that you can calibrate this tool, but even without calibration it’s better than nothing.
Jelly Bean: Android grows up
All in all, Android’s usefulness in IT has gone up exponentially with the introduction of Jelly Bean. With a few exceptions, I’ve found little need to root my Nexus 7, nor have I found the need to change the ROM. I can now do probably about 90 percent of my day-to-day fixes on my Nexus 7. I’m a firm believer in the utility of tablets, and I now try very hard not to go anywhere without my trusty Nexus 7.