RIM Announces BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express for SMBs

Research In Motion debuts BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, a platform that lets SMBs synchronize BlackBerry devices with either Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Windows Small Business Server. RIM positions its free platform as a cost-effective midmarket option, which could allow it to expand its core business beyond the enterprise and perhaps help solidify its standing against such competitors selling mobile devices such as the Apple iPhone, Google Android devices and the new Windows Phone 7 Series.

Research In Motion has turned its sights on the small and midsize business market with the Feb. 16 introduction of BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, which synchronizes BlackBerry devices with either Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Windows Small Business Server. From the outset, RIM is positioning the free platform as a cost-effective way for smaller IT departments to securely manage their employees' personal devices on an office network.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express will work with Microsoft Exchange 2010, 2007 and 2003, and Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 and 2008. IT administrators running the platform will have granular control over policies governing actions such as password resetting and device wiping via a Web-based interface. Certified for use with VMware ESX, BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express will allow users to wirelessly synchronize their device information, remotely manage and search e-mail folders, edit documents with Documents To Go, access files and systems behind a business firewall, and book events.

"In a marketplace where smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express significantly raises the bar by providing a cost-effective solution that allows companies of all sizes to support enterprise-grade mobile connectivity for all employees without compromising security or manageability," Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM, wrote in a Feb. 16 statement.

Analysts saw RIM's news as a solid tactic.

"Giving Express away to increase the number of BlackBerry units sold is a good strategy," Jack Gold, principal analyst with J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 16 statement. "It will dispel the notion that free-style is good enough ([in other words,] Exchange and ActiveSync, which are the overwhelming share of the e-mail/PIM market) and make BlackBerry more appealing to midtier companies where cost is important."

Enterprise-focused vendors such as SAP and Oracle have recently put a focus on SMBs, offering their enterprise platforms either in stripped-down form or as individual modules for smaller companies' selective consumption. RIM seems to follow in these strategic footsteps with BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, seeking to expand its market as even larger companies remain supremely cost-conscious in the wake of a massive global recession.

RIM's BlackBerry smartphones have faced strong competition from smartphones such as Apple's iPhone and devices running Google Android, particularly in the consumer segment. According to ComScore, RIM's share of the overall U.S. smartphone market declined by 1 point between September and December 2009 to 41.6 percent, while both Apple and Google experienced respective gains of 1.2 percent and 2.7 percent. Microsoft's share of the market also declined by 1 point, to 18 percent, during that period.

RIM's response to that competition, in many ways, has been to emphasize its key strengths; for example, the recently released BlackBerry Bold 9700 smartphone is a sleeker version of the Bold 9000, while RIM has made only relatively minor tweaks to its recent BlackBerry OS 5.0.

Originally announced in May 2009, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 is designed to improve security for a variety of enterprise functions, including e-mail, instant messaging and proprietary applications. As with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, IT administrators can utilize a Web-based interface to "push" mandatory applications onto users' phones, as well as make adjustments to internal policies.

RIM's announcement of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express comes the day after Microsoft unveiled its Windows Phone 7 Series, running its newest operating system for mobile devices, which includes an "Office hub" for sharing documents and conducting business functions.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with comments from an analyst.