Smartphones

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.

22 comments
definitejunkmail
definitejunkmail

If you're planning on doing the full UM bundle (Exchange UM + OCS), Windows Mobile is the platform that makes the most sense - I have my Communicator Mobile constantly connected, allowing me to receive/send IMs as if I were connected to OCS directly, I have the ability to forward my work line or do multiring - there are so many options.

wayne.phillips
wayne.phillips

Very Interesting decision to make. I?ve been working in the Mobility industry for 10 Years, I know not much of an industry back then, Blackberries were SMS machines back then. No I feel old. I?m Blackberry Certified since 2.2, Nokia Mobility Master, MCSE / MCTS Exchange and Mobility. So I?ve seen the best and the worst of them all. I seen there is no mention of Windows Mobile 6.1 and System Centre Mobile Device Manager. If you are not looking at the product, then you should be. From a scaling perspective when you start hitting the thousands of users mark, then Blackberry starts to creek. Obviously you need to spec your hardware accordingly, but when you starting build a cost benefit analysis Blackberry starts to become very expensive. I was recently asked to produce a migration plan for 30,000 worldwide users from Blackberry to Exchange 2007 and SCMDM 2008. To my surprise, the solution did not require any more hardware, but in fact released 15-20 servers back into circulation. There is an instant saving, but the cost of hardware is the least cost. You have licences cost, support, patching, air conditioning etc etc. As for stability, all the recent Device OS version are very stable. Yes you get stability issue with certain vendors, device build etc but choose the right device and all the solutions are stable. If you start to scale out your solution Blackberry needs far more hardware than Exchange 2007 and SCMDM 2008 combined. The future issues to watch is ?Who is paying for the RIM relay??. Well you are? Who pays for the Private links to the Relay? Well you are? but these costs are invisibly passed on to the user via the Carriers. If the money stops flowing RIM?s way? who will pay for the RIM relay? if this finally stops, everything stops. In my opinion the best enterprise solution is SCMDM 2008, Exchange 2007 with client cert authentication and Windows Mobile 6.1 (Palm Treo Pro, HTC Touch HD etc) Cheers W

mailstuff95
mailstuff95

interesting title for the article. never saw the movie myself though. I'm coming from a support position over the phone and in person working bes/exchange admins supporting about 1500 devices world wide on 5 continents. the bes server has only had an twice during the last 2 years. once when it stop sending data to certain devices and another when rim when completely black. but you need to keep in mind that rim has only gone down once. compare that to exchange storage groups going offline due to a lack of free space and various patch glitches it's a pretty solid reputation. they aren't the best looking or most feature packed devices but if you need email all the time with bullet proof reliability. they're the way to go. many times outlook would fail to connect due to a backend issue but the blackberries kept receiving emails. I've worked with good link treos (some people you'd have to use a crowbar to pry it from them, iphones, pocket pc, tilt, mogul and they've all had their issues. good link occasionally needed reactivation over air. iphones man don't get me started on passwords on those things. if you've got older professionals (engineers, project managers) keep them away from it. they'll keep locking the ad accts and you'll wonder why it keeps happening. smart phones. geesh talk about mini windows. try mini windows on a mini screen with a generic synchronization failure. I would have thought the smart phones would have been the best choice with push email for no money extra other than enabling advanced features on the features tab but troubleshooting their synchronization is a job in itself. blackberries I think are just unbeatable for now due to the fact they deliver email like nothing else, even with their licensing fees. hope this helps out.

spuluka
spuluka

My current company runs both BES and Windows mobile. The BES has always required more care and feeding and occasionally had issues that needed to be resolved. Most recently the BES conflicted with Microsoft PPTP VPN on the same box. We figure it out and everything works again but there is occasionally something a few times a year. We stopped putting new accounts there last year and migrate users off when new phones are purchased. In a previous position I've installed BES small business at four different networks. Every install had different issues. I spent lots of time figuring out for obscure log messages why the blasted thing just wouldn't start syncing. Each time it was a different issue and solution.

pmajon
pmajon

I have heard of way too many BES nightmares. I administer BES at our company and it was challenging getting it to talk to a new Exchange box. BlackBerrys are ubiquitous so they are not going away anytime soon. I hope that RIM improves integration with Exchange, because there are a lot of options when it comes to Smartphones now. I have heard of many admins switching to Windows Mobile and GoodLink just because of the issues with BES.

Jay Rollins
Jay Rollins

The purpose of the post was to point out something. Are we doing the upgrade? Yes. In fact, it is already done. But...The experience forced us to consider why we need the Blackberry Enterprise Server. Would we or could we cold turkey cut BES? No. But can we migrate slowly over time to a new Windows Mobile or iPhone standard? Yes. RIM needs to stand up and take notice here. The differentiation window is rapidly closing and as more and more companies start questioning the value of BES, the bigger the risk to RIM's future. One point of differentiation that was brought up in the comments here was the fact that messages arrive in the Blackberry sometimes before they get to Outlook. I suggest you seriously consider the value of a message arriving in milliseconds versus 5 or so seconds as worth an additional server or servers in your farm that you have to administer, support, manage, upgrade, secure and power and buy license agreements for. My 2 cents.

jnairn
jnairn

Jay. First lets review some facts. Your company is already supporting all three types of mobile devices. So unless your question is actually "Do I keep Blackberry Enterprise?" and you have the stones to tell your boss and 100 other berry users that they have to give up their precious pocket fruit, you are admittedly late down the upgrade road. We are firm beleivers in making sure that upgrades are managed and planned as soon as they are announced. This makes major leaps unnecessary, and usually without RIM support. Secondly, you are admittedly behind on licences, so you cannot count those costs into your decision, as that must be addressed regardless of your decision to upgrade or not. Thirdly, the mobile device technology is improving and changing as fast as PC tech did in the last 10 years, and these technological improvements must be incorporated as they arrive, otherwise you may run the risk of being seen as not doing your job (also a risk of a Senior IT Executive) and the best way to do that is to ensure that upgrades are tested and incorporated (after a suitable green time of course, to let Beta errors get discovered and fixed lol). Testing means adding a second bes to your network with just a few techs on it (so you can experiment with upgrades on a light licence cost). This method of course represents a best practice that may or may not be applicable, or available to put in place, but a consistent upgrade schedule and accurate licensing tracking are always 100% necessary, and therefore should not be included as factors in your decision to upgrade. Over all, if your upgrade costs are around the 10K mark, this equates to ~$100 per user, compared to what it would cost to purchase 100 or so new Windows Mobile devices and retrain users (Serious stones). So I ask you....Do you plan to KEEP Blackberries in your enterprise?

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

We just switched over to BES. We are currently a mixed environment of WM5/6 and BB. As the IT Administrator at my firm I find that it is much easier to deal with BES than it was for WM (no iPhone experience). We always had to deal with downloading and installing certificates for the Exchange sync wich was a hassle. There is no need for the certificates on the BB's. Also, since you don't need to have someone's password to setup their phone it is much easier in the case where a user is unavailable (as the BES admin you assign a PIN to activate the device that only works once and is only active for the number of hours that you select). Everyone at my work (20 users so far) is much happier with the BB Curve that we are using and I think BB's are easier to manage than WM (we were using Treo 700w and 700wx). So, it does require some extra time up front as you get everything setup, but it isn't too difficult. I think that the time spent up front gets paid back over time due to the simplicity of administering the phones. Finally, the main reason we hadn't made the switch previusly was the prohibitive cost (we are less than a 50 person firm). But, BB has been offering free CALs (5 or 20) and free server software (Enterprise edition if you get 20 phones at one time). We did ours through Verizon, but I'm sure that this deal exists with the other carriers too. I would highly recommend checking into this deal before you make your decision. I 'think' that verizon is running a deal until the end of March, but I'm not sure if it includes the server software.

lowell.goemaat
lowell.goemaat

We have kept up with the BES upgrades and haven't had any upgrade problems. BES is reliable and fast--as a previous person reported, users sometimes get email on the BB before their Notes client. We too started out with the 'freebie' 15 unit license and upgraded to the Professional version. We now have 100 licenses. We like it.

wlramsey
wlramsey

In my experiences, I am much happier with Blackberry and BES server. I have used the Windows Mobile and recently inherited a BES server and Blackberry's moving to a new job. I find the response time on E-mails/Calendar Syncs and other communications are much quicker with BES (a lot of times, an email will show up on my Blackberry before it will show up in Outlook). I do have to admit, however, that I have not had the opportunity to try the iPhone. I am aware of the Blackberry licensing limitations. We had the small business edition and were limited to 15. Once we hit 15 and needed to add more, we found out that there was a "Professional Edition" that was a free upgrade. This will allow up to 30 licenses. According to the below site, anything above 30 you will need a "Trade-up Key". I have not gone down this road, but a "key" does not sound like a 1-2 week process... I also have to say that the upgrade to the "Professional Edition" went seamlessly. I know we were at least one version behind at the time. But I also did not have to mess with the firmware on the phones themselves either. http://na.blackberry.com/eng/services/professional/#tab_tab_pricing I know it is difficult to justify the expense, as the other options have little expense associated with tying them directly to exchange, but I really feel the Blackberry system pays for itself in ease of setup and minimal number of issues. As for setting up a new blackberry server on new hardware, I recently migrated ours to a virtual server. I have not had any problems or performance issues with it. Overall, each system has their advantages. But I know that my executives would be real hard pressed to give up their blackberry's. Executives in general don't like change, and when you are talking about their lifeline, it makes that decision even more difficult. I hope I provided some insight.

brian.m.jones
brian.m.jones

There really isn't a need to support blackberries unless you have to. BES servers are incredibly expensive for what they provide. RIM is terrible to work with. I did an upgrade a couple of years ago where a RIM employee hosed my BES server during the upgrade. I ended up restoring from a backup and doing the upgrade without them on the phone. The whole thing ended up being a 12 hour nightmare. I will never be a BES administrator again.

MNB5
MNB5

This brings up a great point - so many of the companies I visit ask this very question; I then ask if their mobile strategy for security is going to match that of their laptops? It's only time until the next executive gets their iphone stolen and screen shots from his/her last month are strewn across the internet. The next I ask if deploying apps or wirelessly upgrading device software needs to be made easy? Some companies only have a few devices and can spend the time doing everyones upgrade or installing the consumer made itunes onto everyones machine. Then the final question is data coverage - this will distinguish if anyone wants to save money on pc cards and tether or if their strategy is laptop "replacement" within the next year; There's lots to consider and I've found that mobilizing on a platform and not a device makes decisions easier later - great questions and awesome responses; thanks!!

MNB5
MNB5

excellent point; what a great solution and 6.1 is just getting more stable - I've heard that SCMDM is hard to install and laborious - what have you found? Any good advice? thanks -

Paul_London
Paul_London

If you have an existing investment in BES, then there is a valid business case to retain Blackberry devices. There is at least one carrier here in the UK will throw in BES if you have the numbers. The carrier are able to recoup the cost in the data subscriptions. This particular carrier even offers ?20 worldwide BB data, something that isn't offer with their other data packages for regular devices. My past experience has shown that whilst Exchange ActiveSync looks good on paper (in terms of ROI), the reality is a different experience. Due to the ease of use and familiarity with BB devices, users are reluctant to change. Changing to a new platform requires re-training (IT staff and end-users). This costs money and then there are the start up costs in terms of support. If your organisation develops their own apps and that development strategy is based around Java, then BES with MDS makes sense. Before moving away from BES, I would recommend looking at what your carrier can provide you and do your sums from there.

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

You shouldn't have to deal with installing certificates unless you use self-signed certificates, or the CA you purchased from is not a major player. In my experience, we've never had to install certificates to get our Exchange ActiveSync connection to work.

eurojames
eurojames

I'm not a huge fan of BES. We went down the track but moved before it became (more) expensive. We justified it for the exact same reasons your pointing out - your already running an enterprise level app (exchange), why not utilise its full functionality? More hardware required - which is a pain + the support of the app on top of that (in time alone). I think you'll find more execs will move to whatevers flashy and shiny - right now the iPhone which works perfectly over activesync. I'd start the phase out of Blackberry's over the year. That way its not money wasted on handset upgrades. When its time to renew contracts only support non-blackberry handsets. Most end-users love this as more & more handsets are supporting ActiveSync. I'm not a huge MS fan, but this works well. Deliver of messages is acceptable - milliseconds gained? Who are you supporting? execs that do nothing but email flirty somethings to PA's..

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

If you turn off cached exchange mode, you will notice that your emails come in almost immediately. This may account the for delay you are experiencing in Outlook.

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

We do have self-signed certificates, allowing us to keep the cost down (we are a small firm). ...but it is required that we have a certificate since we are using SSL. I will admit, I don't know too much about certificates though. It was setup this way by my predecessor. Maybe there would be a way to deal with the self-signed certificates more easily.

Mycah Mason
Mycah Mason

Both of you bring up a good point regarding the cost. Also, we do have the OWA issue you mentioned. Thanks for the useful info.

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

One more benefit: If you are having to install self signed certificates on PDAs, you are probably having issues with connecting to OWA (Outlook Web Access) as well since the browser will complain that the certificate is not trusted. So, rather than the users having to manually trust this self signed certificate, a real certificate will get around the OWA problem as well.

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

I agree with spuluka - you will definitely save a lot of time with a real certificate. Also, note that SSL certificates don't need to be purchased from the biggest and most expensive CAs like Verisign. You can find many cheaper ones starting at around $100 (a Google search will reveal a lot of them). Just read the reviews on them and purchase one from there to ensure that it will work for you.

spuluka
spuluka

The cost of the "real" certificate from a automatically trusted source is MUCH cheaper than the support time with managing a internally issued one on the phones. Once installed all your phones, new, rebuilt/restored and old will just work. No more fiddling with installing trusted sources. Even on a small network the time saved is worth it.

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