RIM has formally unveiled the next version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) just a few weeks back. Code-named Argon, BES version 5.0 puts an exciting number of new features on the table, such as a spanking new Web-based administrative interface.
While some of the new features, when taken alone, might be dismissed as being merely evolutionary, the entire package of enhancements and new features contributes significantly to its desirability in the enterprise.
Reliability should be as rock stable as previous versions. According to RIM, a server that has been upgraded from version 4.x has been running in production mode inside RIM for over two years, while some early adopters in the enterprise have been using it for over a year.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the enterprise-centric features of the new BES.
The new BlackBerry Administration Service in BES 5.0 is fully Web-based, which means that no desktop client needs to be installed on administrators’ machines. As such, BES administrators can now remotely access the Web interface to perform BlackBerry-related tasks — without having to physically visit the server.
Over-the-air software loading
Administrators can now upgrade not only application software but also the operating systems of an individual user — or the entire company — completely over the air. This is an extraordinary feature that is the first of its kind.
Indeed, it will also be possible to schedule the upgrades to occur in the middle of the night, for example, in order not to disrupt user productivity. Certainly, this feature eliminates any need for a user to physically visit a help desk, which can only contribute to a lowered support cost.
Alan Panezic, vice president of Platform Product Management for RIM, sums it up during a presentation: “The only reason you would ever cable your [BlackBerry] in this version is to charge it.”
BES 5.0 comes with a number of high-availability enhancements to placate even the most demanding administrator. It will be possible to configure active/passive failover design, which opens the way for server-side upgrades with limited downtime, and other DR and BC strategies.
RIM says that when BES is running in a high-availability configuration, there is no single point of failure in the architecture. In addition, it is now possible to scale the number of supported devices on a single BES setup to a staggering 100,000 smartphones.
Other BES 5.0 features
The other major enhancement to BES 5.0 would probably be in the new ability to access and retrieve corporate documents behind firewalls. Assuming it is allowed by the active security policy, it will be possible to download and store these files and also e-mail attachments onto the local microSD cards.
In addition, it will be possible to add, rename, or delete folders of one’s mailbox directly from the handset. Ditto to server-side rules for filtering e-mails, as with the new ability to view attachments in calendar entries and meeting requests.
There is no information on the availability of BES 5.0 yet. It is widely expected, though, to be available on or just before the Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) 2009 to be held from May 5 to May 7 later this year.
The under-the-hood enhancements greatly increase the reliability and scalability of the BES, further entrenching it as the platform of choice for organizations that demand the largest and most robust solution. In fact, the ability to scale up to 100,000 devices positions BES ahead of the largest known implementation of Windows Mobile devices — over at the Redmond campus — that exists today.
While Microsoft has aggressively incorporated enterprise management capabilities into its Windows Mobile platform, the initiative remains firmly in the hands of RIM with BES 5.0 — for now.
Even for organizations already running BES 4.1.6, BES 5.0 is definitely a worthwhile upgrade to have.