BlackBerry server upgrade to face stern tests

An inside look at BES 5.0

The next major release of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server will pose a test not only for customers but also for its creator, Research in Motion.

The first details of BES 5.0 were unveiled at last week's annual user conference , the Wireless Enterprise Symposium. The software includes major rewrites of existing components and the addition of important new ones, introducing a vast array of new features designed to automate and simplify deploying and managing tens of thousands of BlackBerry smartphones, and especially the growing number of applications running on them. The magnitude of the changes means changing the ways enterprise IT staff work with BES.

But at the same time, RIM faces its own challenges with the release, code-named Argon. Apart from how good the new features are, enterprise users will judge RIM as it has asked to be judged: on whether the company itself can be a responsible, reliable strategic mobility partner on a much greater scale than before. And that judgment will be determined in part on how RIM manages the entire introduction of 5.0, including the inevitable glitches and stumbling blocks.

Yet in the main keynote speech for the conference, RIM President and Co-CEO Michael Lazaridis made no reference to 5.0 or its implications for customers, 5,000 of whom were sitting in front of him.

Users are likely to start forming their conclusions over the next few months, as RIM juggles the recent April release of BES 4.1.5, the planned US summer release of 4.1.6, the launch of the 5.0 beta test in early summer, and the scheduled fourth-quarter shipment of 5.0. Users will have to be on at least Version 4.1.3 in order to migrate to 5.0, according to RIM executives.

The BES (pronounced "bez") is the linchpin of an enterprise BlackBerry deployment. All communications funnel through it, as it works with the back-end mail servers Exchange or Lotus Notes, and provides some tools for administering and managing BlackBerry devices, users and the BES itself. ISVs do a brisk business in supplying management tools. The upcoming Argon release will have to surmount a range of limitations in today's BES that make large-scale BlackBerry deployments increasingly complex and burdensome.

BlackBerry pain points

Users are keenly aware of the pain points for administering even small BlackBerry deployments. One example is creating and managing numerous software configurations, which are essentially collections of applications associated with a BlackBerry user or a group of users. Currently, this entire process quickly becomes cumbersome as the number of applications and their possible combinations grow, says Justin Bortnick, support manager for the BlackBerry users at a BlackBerry applications vendor, who spoke on condition that his company not be identified.

Application downloads and subsequent updates can consume hours of manual labor in case of problems, because administrators end up sifting through a voluminous database of entries to find and remove one or two problematic entries, Bortnick says.

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