Mobility

Desperately seeking Blackberry Enterprise Server value

Jay Rollins has to make a mobile device decision for his enterprise. In this blog, he weighs the pros and cons, features and drawbacks of the three main players.

Jay Rollins has to make a mobile device decision for his enterprise. In this blog, he weighs the pros and cons, features and drawbacks of the three main players.

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Our company supports the three main mobile devices integrated with Microsoft Exchange: Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and iPhone. We upgraded our headquarters phone system recently and that upgrade included a Universal Messaging capability. This capability allowed voicemail to be forwarded to individual e-mail addresses.

The version of Blackberry Enterprise Server that we had installed did not support .WAV files, and the 100 or so Blackberry users (CEO and COO included) desired this capability. Both the iPhone and Windows Mobile natively support this—Windows Mobile with the media player and iPhone with Quicktime.

Upon investigation, this function is not supported until version 4.1 of the Blackberry Enterprise Server. The last time my company experienced a BES upgrade, there were several issues, including too many versions behind, that caused an outage on the company Blackberries lasted a few days while RIM support got them back up and running. Needless to say, we were a little gun shy.

When we explored exactly what was required to perform the upgrade, I started questioning the value of BES. First, we were going to install fresh on new hardware to avoid the previous upgrade issues. We were informed that older firmware versions may still not be able to enable the .WAV functionality. Additionally, about one-third of the devices needed firmware upgrades and 60% of the devices would need to be re-initialized.

So we start going down the path of the upgrade and get RIM support on the line. It appears that, since our original installation, we exceeded a licensing threshold. If we had under 50 devices, they could help us upgrade right then and there. However, the next tier of service costs $3,000 and RIM would be able to support the upgrade in 7 to 14 days. Does this make sense? We pay more for more licenses and we have to wait one to two weeks before we can do the upgrade? All in, with BES consulting costs, new hardware costs, and the licensing costs, we're over $10k for the upgrade.

We started looking at the functionality of the BES compared with other devices. The big features that I can see:

  1. Secure e-mail transport
  2. Proprietary Calendar synchronization
  3. Remote "wipe" security feature
  4. Remote disable security feature
  5. Application distribution
  6. In-Depth message reporting

Secure e-mail transport

All three platforms support an SSL transport mechanism from what I can see. The Blackberry server does this for the Blackberry devices and Exchange can do it for the iPhone and Windows Mobile devices.

Proprietary Calendar synchronization

I'm not sure of the benefits of the proprietary nature of the calendar funtion, but calendar synchronization works perfectly fine with the Windows Mobile and iPhone platform.

Remote "wipe" security feature

Supported for all three device platforms with Microsoft Exchange 2003 SP2, the remote wipe feature deletes all the e-mail and data on a device. it basically resets factory settings. Blackberry does this in a different way, but basically, it gets it done.

Remote disable security feature

Blackberry is the only one with this feature. It can actually disable the phone. Remote wipe really limits the other two mobile platforms, so I'm not sure of a huge benefit here.

Application distribution

All three can distribute applications and all three are platform-specific. No differentiation there.

In-depth message reporting

You want to see how many messages go to what user and when? Then Blackberry is the only way to do this. I don't really see a huge upside here. We have unlimited data plans, so it's no big deal.

The keyboard and user interface of the Blackberry is "familiar" to long-time users. Windows Mobile is getting better and the iPhone UI is incredible, although the keyboard takes some getting used to. All in all, I'm finding it very difficult to justify the $10k spend. With Windows Mobile and iPhone, you don't need additional hardware or have to pay separate licensing costs.

I'm interested in your thoughts on the platforms.

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