On-premises BlackBerry servers won't connect to Microsoft's Office 365 at launch

The BlackBerry servers enterprises have installed in their data centers won't be able to connect to the Exchange Online portion of Microsoft's Office 365 cloud service, but RIM plans to have a cloud-based BlackBerry email service move into beta once Office 365 hits general availability, the vendors said this week.

On-premises BlackBerry Enterprise Servers (BES) will not connect to Office 365, at least at first, RIM product management director Jeff Holleran said. Microsoft and RIM announced a free hosted BlackBerry service designed for Office 365 last month, saying only that it will launch "later this year."

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With Office 365 moving into public beta this week, the Microsoft service seems to be further ahead in development than the corresponding BlackBerry service. However, a beta version of the BlackBerry cloud service should be available once Office 365 hits general availability.

"Our intention is to be in beta at that point in time," Holleran said.

Office 365 beta tester Tom Boxrud of Underwriters Laboratories in Illinois says he was told by Microsoft that Office 365 could launch for real in June. But Microsoft isn't confirming that date publicly, nor will it say exactly when the BlackBerry cloud service will launch.

"Office 365 will launch later this year," a Microsoft spokesperson said via email. "RIM has also indicated that their BlackBerry cloud-based service will launch later this year. If there is a gap in availability between the two, we expect it to be small, but we do not have more details to share at this time."

Enterprises are typically wary of adopting beta products in production. But Holleran said the BlackBerry cloud beta will be robust, ensuring no interruption of service. "There's no intention between organizations to take away BlackBerry capabilities," Holleran said.

The beta tag should be taken off the BlackBerry cloud service by the end of 2011. There will be early access to the beta for "select enterprise customers in the coming weeks," RIM said.

While the on-premises BlackBerry servers owned by enterprises will not connect to Office 365 at first, Holleran said RIM expects to offer that capability at some point. But while RIM promises the cloud service in 2011, it doesn't say when it will provide the ability to hook on-premises servers up to Office 365.

One other option is BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), which provides BlackBerry users access to mail from the Outlook Web App without requiring connection to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. This is the option provided to Office 365 beta customers, with Microsoft saying, "BlackBerry device users will need to use BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) for the beta; there is no Hosted BlackBerry service available as part of the beta."

Boxrud, the director of enterprise infrastructure at Underwriters Laboratories, is adopting Exchange for the first time with Office 365 as his company migrates from IBM's Lotus Notes and Domino.

"We'll be ready to migrate [to Office 365] by June 1 and hopefully Microsoft will be able to offer it in general availability shortly thereafter," he said.

Boxrud is excited about Office 365 overall, but added that "the biggest negative is integration with BlackBerry."

Underwriters Laboratories has a mitigation strategy in place, using AstraSync to provide Exchange ActiveSync connectivity to BlackBerrys. The "silver lining," Boxrud says, is that this has spurred his organization to start moving its 1,200 BlackBerry users to newer platforms such as iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7, which also connect via Exchange ActiveSync.

"We're going to give them a choice where they didn't have it before," Boxrud says.

One question is why Microsoft and RIM simply don't use the same email connection technology in Office 365 that's used in Microsoft's current hosted Exchange service, the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

The explanation given by the companies is that BPOS, which runs Exchange 2007, uses the MAPI messaging protocol, and Office 365, which will run Exchange 2010, upgrades to Exchange Web Services. With BPOS, Microsoft hosts BlackBerry Enterprise servers in its own data centers, according to Holleran, but with the launch of Office 365 the two companies will move to a "business-to-business cloud" model with the RIM cloud connecting to the Microsoft cloud.

Exchange Web Services is more "latency intolerant" than MAPI, Holleran explains. For these reasons, the method of connecting BlackBerrys to Exchange Online in BPOS will not be carried over to Office 365.

"With Office 365 for enterprises, customers will be able to utilize RIM's newly announced BlackBerry cloud-based service," Microsoft said. "This will replace the existing Microsoft-hosted BlackBerry enterprise service that is available today for Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) -- Standard."

Holleran added, "As we transition from MAPI to latency-tolerant solutions we expect the ability to connect from on-premises into the cloud as well." But no timeline for on-premises to cloud connectivity is being revealed.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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Jon Brodkin

Network World
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