A year after revealing a major upgrade of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server was underway, Research in Motion this week finally fleshed out what the new version will do, and put a delivery date on it.
For attendees at RIM's annual BlackBerry conference, Wireless Enterprise Symposium, it's welcome news.
The BES (pronounced "bez) is the locus of an enterprise BlackBerry deployment. All communications funnel through the BES, 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.
The upcoming release of BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0, codenamed Argon, is a critical piece in RIM's effort to make its software and smartphones a foundation for next generation mobile applications. For that to happen, enterprise BlackBerry administrators need to move visibility into the BES. They also need tools to simplify and automate deploying and managing scores of mobile applications, including line of business programs. Finally, they need improvements in BES to make it more reliable and scaleable if it's to be the linchpin for mission critical mobile business and communications.
All of these requirements are being addressed in BES 5.0.
"This is a major step forward," says Raymond Gayoso, senior systems engineer, for Fidelity Investments, which has 15,000 BlackBerry handhelds deployed. BlackBerries may start out as mainly e-mail devices, but over time, Gayoso says, they become increasingly important to business users, who see and demand ways to use it beyond scheduling meetings or responding to an urgent e-mail. "As people do more and more business on them, we need the reliability of 5.0," he says.
At the conference, RIM executives said the current software build of the 5.0 release is already running at 10 different customer sites worldwide, part of an "early adopter" testing program. The regular beta test will start "in a couple of months," says Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president for software product management. RIM hopes to release 5.0 by year-end, but that will depend on the quality of the code, Panezic says.
The Argon release includes a completely new management interface to the server, called BlackBerry Administration Service (BAS), with a Web-based console instead of the current Windows32 desktop application. The starting page of the console has an almost haiku-like simplicity: users select categories and click their way down into more detailed information and actions. Administrators will be able to assign users to more than one user group, with different roles (such as "security administrator" or "senior help desk") and attendant permissions, and different software configurations and IT policies, attached to each group.
The process of activating BlackBerry users and their devices will now be able to be monitored from start to finish, showing the status of each activation. Similarly the new BAS will have a much more fine-grained security model, allowing administrators to allow or disallow a wide range of device features and behaviors.
Another key change is what RIM calls Unified Application Management, giving administrators much more control over deploying, securing, and managing applications, from RIM or from third-party or enterprise developers. In this new model, applications and information about them are "published" to a BlackBerry repository, which is then used to bundle applications together for user groups to schedule and control their distribution to devices.