They're here: Standard synchs for the wireless

[JUNE 17, 2002] - Data synchronization has long been one of the knottier problems facing developers of system software and applications for the burgeoning mobile marketplace.

The ability to share data among workstations, network application servers and a growing collection of nomadic information appliances has become essential for many organizations. Yet, the lack of a uniform protocol has for years caused synchronization to become, in the words of researchers at Gartner Group, "an inhibitor to most organizations' strategic use of mobile computing."

"We all began finding that there was no standard protocol or specification for synchronization," said Gregg Armstrong, chief operating officer of Starfish Software, a Motorola unit that makes software to synchronize data across multiple devices. "We needed some common way of describing and exchanging the data between devices and back-end systems, particularly when we got into over-the-air environments."

To solve the problem, eight companies (Starfish, Ericsson, IBM, Lotus, Motorola, Nokia, Psion and Palm Computing) joined forces back in February 2000 to establish the Synchronization Markup Language (SyncML) standards body. SyncML is an open standard protocol for syncing data among corporate servers, Web servers, desktops, laptops and handhelds. It's designed for both wireline and wireless, but one of its primary applications is configuring remote devices. SyncML is based on industry standards, including XML, MIME, vCard and iCalendar.

By the end of 2000, the group had launched the 1.0 specification of SyncML, which today is supported by more than 500 organizations.

"We've seen widespread adoption, starting with the wireless marketplace and the handset vendors and wireless operators," Armstrong said. "We are seeing a lot of support now within the enterprise application space. Many of the companies we are working with today see [synchronization] as a requirement of their future solutions."

Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Starfish was an early supplier of SyncML-based solutions. The company recently signed an agreement calling for IBM to integrate Starfish's TrueSync technology into the WebSphere Everyplace Access enterprise wireless platform. Armstrong said the integration will allow WebSphere Everyplace Access corporate users to gain synchronized access to PIM and e-mail data over currently available devices on any network and over time on virtually any device.

"WebSphere Everyplace Access is a natural extension to e-business," contends Mike Rhodin, vice president of IBM's Pervasive Computing Development. The standards support will let companies "leverage existing technology and data with the onslaught of pervasive computing devices" to boost business.

Starfish officials said Nokia has also agreed to license the TrueSync server to provide corporate employees with over-the-air access to Exchange information using their 9210 and 9290 devices, as well as any other SyncML device.

Armstrong said such agreements can help organizations move synchronization beyond bringing calendars and contacts from desktops to wireless devices. "Increasingly, people need access to data from many, many points, whether we're talking about different device types or different application types. You also get into environments where there are multiple data stores on servers. And all of that needs to be synchronized."

Starfish is currently focusing on a platform that encompasses data synchronization, file connectivity, utilities, and the expanding areas of device management. The so-called Managed Mobility Platform encompasses the TrueSync synchronization platform; Symplify, the company's wireless connectivity component; and a device management platform currently under development. That platform will be based on a protocol called SyncML DM, which will address the device management aspect of synchronization.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at


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