As Research In Motion preps its BlackBerry 6 operating system, the company is releasing BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2, software with a variety of new features designed to help IT administrators and end users manage their BlackBerry devices within a business context. Many of the features seem oriented toward creating a clearer line between the personal and business functions on an individual user's BlackBerry-perhaps a nod toward the devices' use in a variety of contexts.
Additions to BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2 include a Single Sign-On feature that lets both end-users and administrators, once logged into the system, access the BlackBerry Web Desktop Manager and BlackBerry Administrator Service without needing to re-enter a user ID or password. IT administrators can also remove corporate data from a particular BlackBerry device without risking the owner's personal information or applications.
In that same spirit of bifurcation between a BlackBerry user's personal and business functions, a new Individual-Liable Devices Policy lets employees who actually own their Blackberry device, and are connected to their company's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, access their personal e-mail and calendar-as well as make calls on their personal voice plan-even when the device is locked. Users now have the option of resetting the password on the device, or wiping it clean of data-options previously reserved for IT administrators.
On the IT administrator side, different authentication requirements can be assigned to specific URLs, such as company ones that contain customer information. In addition, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2 includes predefined administration groups, allowing IT administrators a standardized method of assigning permissions and access to different IT staff such as help desk or senior administrators. IT pros can take this feature one step further, assigning specific IT policies to groups within the broader company; blended IT policies can be delivered to specific BlackBerry devices depending on the groups to which their owners belong.
RIM has also added support for additional Web browsers: now Google Chrome 4.0, Internet Explorer 8, Mozilla Firefox 3.6 and Safari 4 support access to the BlackBerry Administration Service for IT Staff and BlackBerry Web Desktop Manager. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server platform now supports Windows Server 2008 R2, MS Hyper-V 2008, and support for SQL Server 2008 R2 expected within 30 days of release.
The updates to BlackBerry Enterprise Server come at a time when RIM finds itself facing increased competition in both the enterprise and consumer contexts. On April 27, RIM President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis unveiled the BlackBerry 6 operating system during an address at the company's Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando, Fla.
Lazaridis described the operating system as the "biggest step forward for the BlackBerry experience in our history," noting the variety of revamped features such as multitouch functionality, bookmarks, easy-to-access search, and pan-and-zoom scrolling from screen to screen. Analysts saw those additions as potentially helping RIM compete against not only Google Android and the Apple iPhone, but also the upcoming Windows Phone 7, with which Microsoft is making a play for both the consumer and enterprise audiences.
In the meantime, RIM continues to hold a prime position within the enterprise context. Originally introduced in May 2009, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 was designed to improve security for a variety of enterprise functions, including e-mail; in addition, it gives IT administrators a Web-based interface for pushing mandatory applications onto users' phones. RIM followed that up in February 2010 with the free BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, which synchronizes BlackBerry devices with either Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Windows Small Business Server-positioning the company as a provider of cost-effective mobility solutions for smaller IT departments.
Many of the new features present in BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2 will apparently find their way into BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express' next software release, scheduled for later in 2010.