With the current 4.0 release, "you can't push applications to larger groups," Bortnick says. "And there are no reporting tools to tell you about failures." It took one of their customers over three months to distribute applications to 2,500 BlackBerry users, he says. Reliably pushing applications to the handhelds "has been a challenge for us," acknowledged Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president for software product management, during a presentation last week.
All of these requirements and many more 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 become increasingly important to business users, who quickly want to do more than schedule meetings or respond to an urgent e-mail. "As people do more and more business on them, we need the reliability of 5.0," he says.
Pain relief in 5.0
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"), attendant permissions, and different software configurations and IT policies attached to each group.
Another change is an improved BlackBerry Monitoring System, which in 5.0 will use a BES Monitoring Agent running on the handheld to provide real-time data and alarms on a range of critical trends, such as the sudden queuing of e-mails
That's good news, users say. "[I want] better monitoring of what's happening in the BES," says Jill Belben, lead staff support analyst, management information systems, at Florida Hospital, in Orlando. "And more ability to get detailed reports."
The Web-based management console is already a hit. "Whenever there's a new service pack or BES upgrade, we have to manually upgrade [all] the [management] consoles on PCs," says Fidelity's Gayoso. The browser-based interface eliminates all that.
Smoothing application management
Another key change is what RIM calls Unified Application Management, a repository-based set of tools to give administrators much more control over deploying, securing, updating and managing applications, from RIM or from third-party or enterprise developers. The April release of 4.1.5 lets software updates now be downloaded wirelessly. The 5.0 release builds on this: It can check for software dependencies, juggle the software loading order to keep things in sequence, and check to be sure the device has enough memory, for example.
Argon will be the first release to support application "white lists" -- only those applications specified in the list can be loaded on the BlackBerry device, which with the BES will block attempts to download unauthorized programs. "Today, it's all or nothing," says Stephen Burchette, messaging services consultant with Roche Pharmaceuticals, a division of the Swiss company F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd. Roche has 6,000 BlackBerry devices. "We block downloading of all other applications," Burchette says. "But some users need BlackBerry Maps. Today, they can't even do that." With 5.0, he can set up policies to let users download just the applications they need.