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So in my new job as System Admin, more and more I have been looking into tablets but I try to be a frugal person and justify my costs. One application I was attempting to think of was if I could use this thing on the job or not, which would increase it's value to me greatly. Now I'd rather this not turn into an opinion battle of apple vs android, etc but is there any practical use for tablets for this kind of job, and if so what apps make it worthwhile, what cost some money but are worth the cost? If any, of course. Or are these things more for family and entertainment purposes?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Having worked in the same office as a bunch of tablets, their best use ended up being working during meetings. They're less obtrusive than that big laptop so you're not hiding behind a screen while you don't make eye-contact. Very handy for instantly troubleshooting trouble-reports that poke their head in the door ("Um, did you know printing is broken?"). I also know some people used them preferentially when dragging their butts to the other end of campus to meet with people or do things since a tablet is lighter than a laptop; and if it gets really serious they could just commandeer a desktop anyway.

The only admin who outright replaced their laptop with it was the Solaris admin, and even he preferred a real keyboard if he was doing anything more than hitting refresh on status pages. No one ever replaced their desktop with one, we were f-a-r too addicted to screen real-estate to consider that an option.

As for apps:

  • Browser
  • SSH client

Not much else. If our telecom folk picked them up (they never did that I saw) there are some wifi-analysis apps that are useful for troubleshooting wifi networks, but I don't know much about them.

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See this is what I was thinking, that they're not too useful, but I guess the whole "Next big thing" had me wondering if I could use it for more than just kinda having fun with it. –  TylerShads Jul 14 '11 at 2:47
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Agreed on the "most useful in meetings" point. I just completed a 1-month eval of an iPad. While it was surely fun, it wasn't incredibly useful except for the Evernote application in meetings. –  EEAA Jul 14 '11 at 3:02
    
We ensure that our iPads can be used for doing almost everything on the network. They can access the performance graphs, reboot VM hosts, and they have a very good RDP client on them for doing quick things where they need doing. Pop a 3G SIM in and you have a perfect on-call device that people will actually remember to take with them when they go out. –  Mark Henderson Jul 14 '11 at 5:01
    
@Mark - I installed the vCenter iPad app and attempted to get it running, but it apparently needed some other web component to be running on our vCenter Server. I didn't have the time nor patience to look into it at the time, so I just gave up. :) I'm sure the app itself would have been useful, though. –  EEAA Jul 14 '11 at 5:09
    
@ErikA - it's very simple to get running. You just deploy a VMWare OVA, give it an IP address and open ports to access it over HTTPS from the internet (we went further and changed its default port and installed a certificate from our internal CA, which is trusted by our iPads). That's it. I've posted some screenshots of it below in my answer as well. The vmware app acts as a proxy, so you put in the app's details in the app, and then connect directly to your local vsphere/esxi clients using their LAN credentials. –  Mark Henderson Jul 14 '11 at 5:18

We use our iPads quite heavilly for on-call support. Here are three quick things we do with it:

  1. vSphere remote administration. VMWare has a fairly good iPad client. It can do the important things on a VM that you need to do in an emergency, such as restart guests or hosts, and view utilisation

    enter image description here

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  2. Dashboard overview of system health and network activity

    enter image description here

  3. Remote desktop into servers for quick fixes. It's not great for working for extended periods, but for emergencies its quite good

    enter image description here

    This particular RDP client also supports TS gateways, which makes it even more useful.

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They are nice for the instant-on features. This makes them good as dashboards — if you can get a live overview of all your systems to fit on a single screen with one-click drill down that you can pull up in <3 seconds, there is some value there. They're also nice for reading through lots of documentation - you can take an 600 page manual with you and it's 1/4 the size and weight. Expanding on this a bit, imagine one in a server room with all the docs for your servers pre-loaded to the device and easy to get to for reference.

But don't expect to actually get work done with one, and so personally they haven't justified a $500 outlay yet.

I do use an iPod Touch + an app that's since been pulled from the store for using undocumented APIs as a quick and dirty way to do a poor-man's on-the-fly wifi site survey.

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I will answer that question with another question : How fast can you type on a tablet? If it's really fricking fast, then maybe it's worth it to you. If not, what other use case are you thinking of?

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See that's where I'm not sure. I personally don't like touch screens enough to use them as to do all my word processing and such but I'm not quite sure of any other use they could have app wise or maybe a niche thing that I have not thought of. –  TylerShads Jul 14 '11 at 2:39

I use an iPad, but quite frankly, it's a luxury item. Is it helpful? sure. Can I live without it? yeah.

Many of my company's internal tools are web-based which the iPad handles flawlessly. Though, I wouldn't assume that for everything. It's a small device that can use wireless and VPN from remote. There's the iSSH app which allows multiple ssh connections and on-screen keyboard transparency. I use it to also take notes in meetings, manage calendar entries, and carry most of my technical library around with me.

There are also apps for remote database and network management if that's your thing.

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