Here’s an odd confession: I did not want to write this review. When the words “enterprise” and “server” and “security” are thrown around, I typically run the other way. Setting up enterprise networking solutions is not my idea of a good time, and I don’t wade into enterprise waters voluntarily. I do own an iPad, however, and I did just write about a couple of remote access apps last month, so I let myself get talked into the review.
But enough about me, let’s talk about MobilEcho. It’s a mobile file management application for iPad users who need to stay connected to their work network. With more and more employees walking around with iPads and other Internet-connected mobile devices, the need has risen for consumer tablet owners to access data securely from corporate networks. It’s a challenge for corporate IT staffs to keep data safe, as employees use work-arounds to gain access to their work network from their mobile devices. Whether it’s emailing documents to oneself or using the cloud, carefully designed security shields are being skirted. Enter MobilEcho from GroupLogic, which grants iPad users easy and secure access to corporate networks.
Again, I am not a networking enthusiast. Thus, I approached this review as a small-to-medium-sized business owner without a dedicated IT staff might: I wanted MobilEcho to provide two things first and foremost: easy and secure access. I found that setting up a single server was a snap, but I didn’t attempt to establish multiple servers with various rights and permissions, a procedure that would seem to require the help of an IT staff or a small business owner with significant networking know-how.
In my overview of MobilEcho, I’ll touch briefly on what additional settings are available should you set up multiple servers, but primarily I will explain how I set up a Windows laptop as my server and quickly connected to it from an iPad 2.
Installing MobilEcho was quick and relatively painless. You’ll need a PC running Windows XP SP3 or later or a server running Windows Server 2003 or 2008. And your iPad will need iOS 4.2 or later. I used an HP ProBook laptop running Windows 7 Professional and an iPad 2 running iOS 4.3.5 for this review.
From the GroupLogic website, I downloaded the 21-day free trial. Following the setup instructions, I logged in as an administrator and installed the MobileEcho Administrator application. I launched the app and when prompted, I clicked the button labeled Resume File Sharing, which opens port 443, the default port for secure HTTPS connections that MobileEcho uses. MobilEcho also supports VPN connections–both the built-in iOS VPN and third-party clients–and works with reverse proxy servers.
Next, I grabbed my iPad and downloaded the free MobilEcho app from the App Store. I then launched the app and hit the plus sign in the lower-left corner, which lets you add the server or servers you’d like to access. I was puzzled at the first line, which asked for the Server Name or IP Address. When setting up the server app on the ProBook, I didn’t recall being asked to name the server. So, I dug up the IP address for the laptop and used that. The next line, Display Name, asks for a name that will be displayed in the Servers list in the left-hand column of the iPad app. In the third line, enter your Windows username, and then move the slider over on the fourth line if you’d like the MobilEcho app to save your password so that you won’t need to enter it each time you log in to your server. Tap save in the upper-right corner and you should see your server add to the list in the left-hand column. Tap on the name of the server, enter your Windows password, and you’ll establish a connection.
Now, before you’ll be able to see any files, you’ll need to return to your server and select which folders you’d like to share. Unlike a consumer product like LogMeIn Ignition or GoToMyPC, which grants access to an entire PC, MobilEcho will share only those folders you designate. To do so, click on the Volumes button on the MobilEcho Administrator window on the server you established. Then from the right-hand column, click the Create button. You can then choose files on the machine you’re seated in front of (On this server) or another server/computer on your network (On another server).
Working with files
Accessing server files from the iPad is iPad-easy. The app works in landscape mode and features two columns. The left column features a File Inbox, where apps opened in other iPad apps are stored, and My Files, where local copies of files that you have copied or moved from a server reside. Below these two menu items is the list of servers to which you have access. Tap on a server to connect and browse the shared folders and files that are listed in the wider right column of the application. You can tap on the folders to drill down to the file you’re hunting for. It looks and feels like using Windows Explorer. I didn’t experience any apparent lag when drilling up and down the folder tree over a wireless network connection. And when I created a new document on the server and saved it in a shared folder, it appeared in the iPad app as soon as I hit the refresh button when viewing the appropriate folder.
Using the search bar at the top of the folders list, you can also search for files by name or content, although for the latter, GroupLogic states “In order for By Content search to function, the mobilEcho server has to have Windows Search services running and configured to index the files being shared with mobilEcho. If your IT administrator has not installed Windows Search, you will only be able to search By Name.”
When you find a file you’d like to open, tapping on it brings up menu options that let you preview the file, open it in another iPad app (on my iPad, the options were Evernote, LogMeIn, and Dropbox), email the file, copy or move it to the clipboard, rename it, or delete it. Preview worked instantaneously, even with a multi-slide PowerPoint presentation.
When you copy or move files to the clipboard, you can then navigate to another folder or the My Files area to paste the file. The current version of MobilEcho (2.1.1) lets you copy or move files but not folders; a future release will support folders, promises GroupLogic.
MobilEcho uses HTTPS to encrypt the files shuttled between your servers and iPads. On the server side, on the MobilEcho Administrator window, click on the Settings button and then the Security tab. I feared I’d find a long and confusing list of options here, so I was relieved when I found but a single check box. It was, however, labeled with the cryptic phrase, “Require that client is managed to access this server.” Checking this box requires all clients connecting to the server to be managed by MobilEcho’s Client Management Server application. It’s disabled by default, and I didn’t test it out. If you have installed MobilEcho on more than one Windows PC or server, however, the Client Management Server app allows IT managers to set up a variety of security settings, from establishing group and user profiles to setting application-level file permission and distribution policies to restrict how files can be viewed, edited, copied, moved, deleted, emailed, printed, and so on. It can also be used to perform remote password resets or a remote wipe, which removes files stored locally in the MobilEcho app.
On the client side, there is a useful security measure you can take. Tap the small gears icon at the bottom of the iPad app; this opens a Settings column. Tap the App Password and move the slider to On. This forces you, or someone who might have stolen or found your iPad, to enter a password to launch the app.
MobilEcho is certainly pricier than consumer-grade remote access iPad apps such as LogMeIn Ignition and Splashtop Remote Desktop, but enterprise-level security rarely comes cheap. It might be a bit steep for the small business owner looking to share a lone server with a handful of iPad-toting employees, but the setting up and using MobilEcho in such a scenario does not require the aid of an IT professional. MobilEcho’s real value, however, comes when you are sharing multiple servers with the Client Management Server app, which allows you to set up a variety of permission policies to keep your employees productive and your data safe.
After your 21-day trial, you’ll need to decide if MobilEcho is works for your organization. Pricing starts at at $795 for three clients. It costs $1,495 for ten clients, $1,995 for 25 clients, $2,995 for 50 clients, and $4,495 for 100 clients. For an unlimited number of clients, the charge is $6,995.