The winner of the Datamation Product of the Year award in the wireless software category will come as a surprise to very few who work in enterprise tech: Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
The product first hit the market in 1999 as a desktop redirector, where it routed encrypted e-mails from the desktop to mobile devices. Customer requests drove innovation, and soon the company introduced a product that worked with laptops and a robust server version.
According to Alan T. Panezic, a vice president at RIM, consumer requests have always played a major role in the server’s development. Once customers had e-mail pushed to them, they also wanted data pushed from other apps, like calendars and to-do lists.
In version 3.5, RIM added the Mobile Data System, a component that lets the server access Internet and intranet data, as well as enterprise applications. That significantly increased the kinds of data the server could send, as well as the range of products that would work with it.
The MDS interfaces using open standards, including XML data and HTTP transport, meaning that it can easily work with any device that has a Web interface. Plus, it handles encryption and security automatically, no matter the source. Along with the MDS, RIM offered a few sample applications to give people an idea how to use it, including an emergency contact list and a Java database application.
Today, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is in its fourth version, and counts over 10,000 enterprises as customers, with over 90,000 servers installed globally. Each server can support up to 2,000 users.
The enterprise server is a software solution that runs on Windows NT Servers. A complete installation takes about two hours, and it works with devices using any US carrier. You don’t need a BlackBerry to access it, since mobile server software is available for most smart phones.
“Any time our users recognize our efforts, its very gratifying to us,” says Panezic. “As an organization we’re very customer-centric. We won’t rest on our laurels, so there are many more opportunities.”
Customers like the server because it delivers push data over a range of applications. Managers like how easy it is to administer. An admin can create team policies that define exactly how various internal groups can use their mobile devices. The admin might choose to block SMS, for example, or phone service itself.
“The BlackBerry Enterprise Server is a great tool to allow us to control our users experience and ensure security of the device,” says Brian Lunde, IT director at LifeSource, a non-profit dedicated to organ and tissue donation. “Easy access to our internal business sites with the handheld browser has enabled us to streamline our communication paths.”
The enterprise server starts at $4,999, which includes support for 20 users. Adding additional users costs $100 each, although RIM offers volume discounts.