Good news for network administrators, tech support staffers and other IT pros who use Android smartphones: There are hundreds of Android apps designed to help you get your work done faster, better and -- best of all -- remotely. Do a little searching and you'll find tools that enable you to remotely access desktops, monitor servers, tether your laptop to your phone and more. And the vast majority of these tools are free.
The only hard part is wading through the sheer number of options available in the Android Market and other app collections. So we did the groundwork for you, asking seasoned IT professionals for their picks. Here's a roundup of 10 Android apps that IT pros will find useful. (Of course, you should always go through proper channels and approval processes before using any of these tools with your company systems.)
For those who need to connect to FTP servers, AndFTP offers three main features: the ability to manage FTP services, an FTP file browser and a device file browser. Simply set up server credentials to manage multiple servers. You'll be asked for typical login information, such as host name, username and password, and then you'll see some advanced connection options (SSH key, etc.).
The app also gives you options for both local and remote startup folders. With AndFTP, IT pros can easily browse, download, rename and delete files, create folders and change file permissions. Another cool option: AndFTP lets you add Dropbox-like functionality to your phone. You can share files -- even very large files -- quickly and easily with your users based on permissions.
From: androidVNC team + antlersoft
VNC desktop-sharing software lets IT pros remotely connect to and run systems connected to their LAN or via the Internet. AndroidVNC extends that ability to Android phones.
With it, you can see and control your computer's desktop -- or the desktops of the users you support -- no matter where you are. This app connects to most VNC servers, including TightVNC, Real VNC, x11vnc and Apple Remote Desktop.
Shrinking the desktop down to fit on your phone's screen obviously presents some disadvantages, but AndroidVNC is a neat and useful app. Another caveat: The target device(s) must be using VNC.
This neat little tool is designed to help you wade through the clutter of files and apps that accumulate on your phone. Astro File Manager offers a folder view of the phone, including folders for third-party apps and the contents of your root system folder. A toolbar makes it easy to navigate through the directory and includes buttons for searching, editing an entry and bookmarking folders.
What does this have to do with IT? Over a Wi-Fi connection, IT administrators can use Astro File Manager to track and control all the files in a network shared folder or system. Simply set up a network location via SMB (server message block) and readily view file details and permissions. You can also easily copy, rename or delete files.
Astro File Manager also kills tasks, sends files as attachments, and creates and stores backups of your apps. As with most free apps, the downside is that you have to put up with banner ads.
Price: Free ($1 donation requested)
One of the many nightmare scenarios for an IT professional is having servers go down while you're out of the office -- and not knowing about it. bMonitor can help ease the stress of that scenario by keeping you updated on the status of your servers. The app works by testing servers remotely via ping, port or Web page monitoring.
If the server does not respond, bMonitor will ring your phone, alerting you to the problem. You can even have it ring different IT staffers when there's a problem; simply enter multiple phone numbers in the "Alert Recipients" field in the setup screen. All errors and other events are automatically logged in a text file on your phone.
One problem users have found with bMonitor is that constantly checking servers consumes a great deal of battery power. The app does, however, offer a variety of customization options, including one that lets you control how frequently your phone tests your server.
From: Kenny Root and Jeffrey Sharkey
ConnectBot makes use of the Secure Shell (SSH) network protocol to establish a secure connection between networked devices. The app allows IT workers to shell into the multiple servers and firewalls they support and securely transfer files to and from the phone.
One drawback is that you won't be able to use this app in landscape mode if you're using a virtual keyboard, because the keyboard takes up the entire screen. However, the developers suggest a work-around for that situation: Use the Force Resize command to force the app to fit above the virtual keyboard.
Overlook's Fing is a handy cross-platform network-discovery tool that quickly gives you a complete picture of the devices and services running on your network. Fing also includes basic ping tool that tests the reachability of a host in an IP network by measuring the time it takes for a packet to reach the host and return.
You can run multiple scans or pings in quick succession and output the results in a variety of formats -- including plain text, HTML tables and CSV logs -- for viewing in the app's console window, a Web browser or a third-party application.
Price: The basic version is free; NeoRouter Professional starts at $99 for eight licenses (a 30-day free trial is available).
NeoRouter is a cross-platform VPN product that allows you to remotely access Windows, Mac and Linux computers or view their status. NeoRouter for Android brings that functionality to your phone. Small businesses in particular will appreciate this app, which allows system administrators to connect to all of their computers from any location, integrating remote access, file sharing, VPN and user management.
IT pros at larger businesses may also find this app useful, because it can be used to remotely access printers, manage and maintain unattended servers and provide remote support to users. NeoRouter for Android works very well with ConnectBot and other Remote Desktop Protocol and VNC clients.
NeoRouter for Android comes in a free version and a professional version, both of which require that users have a NeoRouter Server set up with remote computers added. NeoRouter Professional is designed specifically for commercial use and includes a built-in firewall, user access control, spoke-and-hub networking and subnets -- plus one year of technical support.
From: June Fabrics Technology
Price: Free for a limited version that blocks secure Web sites; $23.95 for a full version (though it's currently on sale for $15.95)
Have you ever been unable to find a reliable Wi-Fi signal when you were working in the field? PdaNet can help. It lets you tether your laptop to your smartphone so you can use the phone's 3G network to connect to the Internet -- without rooting your phone or paying your carrier a monthly tethering fee. With it, you can access email, Web apps and anything else you need to do your job, just as you would if your laptop were connected directly to a Wi-Fi access point.
The app supports both USB tethering and Bluetooth dial-up networking (DUN) and can handle download speeds of up to 35Mbit/sec. over USB. However, you will, of course, be limited by the speed of the 3G network you're on.
From: Eric C. Tampellini
In many organizations, IT staffers are spread rather thin. It doesn't help that end users often ignore policies about filing help-desk tickets and instead go straight to the most technically knowledgeable person they know -- you -- every time they hit a snag with their tech gear. And being bombarded with trivial questions pulls you away from focusing on your organization's bigger technology problems.
To save yourself from such minutiae, offer to install the Pocket I.T. Mobile Help Desk on users' Android phones. This tool from Arizona App Design provides answers to simple IT questions. Users select a specific type of device to troubleshoot, such as a laptop, an iPhone or something else, and then search for answers by keywords or key phrases to find solutions to particular problems.
It's not a cure-all; support staffers will still need to handle more advanced problems. But Pocket I.T. can save you from being interrupted every time someone wants to know how to force quit a program or change a password.
Wireless network slow? This handy tool helps you find the best channels on which to run your wireless routers and access points.
Wifi Analyzer shows available channels graphically so you can see immediately how crowded they are. You can then choose a less crowded alternative.
Some may be put off by the ads that rotate through the bottom of the screen, but these are a small price to pay for the free functionality offered.
Logan Kugler is a frequent Computerworld contributor. His most recent article was "The 30 best Safari extensions -- so far."