Research In Motion (RIM) pioneered push email with its BlackBerry products, but now faces a host of rivals seeking to grab a slice of the mobility market. With the latest release of its server platform for large organisations, the company claims to be untroubled by rivals, and confident that customers will see the benefits of upgrading, even during the current economic downturn.
BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 5.0, unveiled earlier this month, adds a number of enhancements including a more user-friendly administrator console, built-in failover capabilities, and improved facilities to ease over-the-air deployment of applications to end users.
According to Alan Panezic, RIM's vice president of platform product management, the market for mobility is growing despite the economic downturn. He cited findings from Forrester Research that the majority of firms expect to increase spending on this area by 5 percent or more this year.
"Smartphones are like desktop computers all over again," he said, explaining that the devices were becoming an essential part of enterprise IT as they became more capable, as happened with PCs in the past.
On the subject of customer upgrades, Panezic said that BES 5.0 addresses three key themes based on customer feedback: manageability, high availability and application management.
Manageability is addressed by the new BlackBerry Administration Service, which provides a completely browser-based console for managing the BlackBerry infrastructure.
The console allows administrators to place BlackBerry users into groups with different settings, such as the applications they have access to. Users can belong to multiple groups, and groups can also be nested inside other groups.
BES 5.0 also has simplified deployment of applications out to end user handsets. According to Panezic, applications can be automatically delivered over-the-air, based on the user's profile. If the user is a member of the sales department, for example, then they will automatically get the set of applications defined for that group.
"You just need to set it up once, and applications are then deployed and removed automatically as users move between groups," Panezic said.
High availability is the third key enhancement in BES 5.0. Firms can now set up a second server that mirrors the first and is ready to step in if it fails or if some service threshold level is crossed. Organisations do not require an additional licence for the standby server, Panezic said, effectively giving customers high availability for free.
End users also see some benefits from the new platform on their BlackBerry handset. One enhancement is support for flags, allowing users to mark an email to follow up later, for example.
Users can also now access network file shares through the Remote File Explorer tool, enabling them to pull down documents from their corporate LAN for access on their BlackBerry.
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