RIM to end support for BES in 2015

RIM will end support for current versions of BES in 2015 and require installation of multiple servers as IT transitions onto new BlackBerry platform.

IT shops that plan to upgrade to BES 10 will also have to upgrade their employees' Blackberry handsets as Research In Motion's upcoming release won’t support devices that run OS 7 or earlier.

When the BlackBerry 10 (BB10) mobile operating system launches in the first quarter of next year, the current version of Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), 5.0.3, will get a service pack 4 update. Following that, Research In Motion (RIM) will still support BES 5.0.4 and older Java-based devices until the end of 2015, said a BlackBerry partner based in Europe.

BES 10 will need to be installed as either a virtual machine or on a separate physical server, an RIM spokesperson said. In other words, enterprises will either have to virtualize or maintain two different server products to manage its fleet of old devices and new QNX-based BlackBerry 10 devices.

It's unclear "if there will be a fully integrated single server to manage legacy devices at all in the future," the Blackberry partner, who requested anonymity, said.

IT shops will manage legacy handsets that run on BES 5.0.4, newer handsets and PlayBook tablets that run on BES 10 -- which is also known as BlackBerry Device Service (BDS) -- as well as Android and iOS devices that run on the Universal Device Service (UDS), through a portal known as the Mobile Fusion Studio management console.

RIM's approach "will give enterprises enough time to slowly migrate to [BES 10] and BB10 from the legacy platform without having to do a painful rip and replace," said the partner. It will also allow IT to "perform normal tech write-offs for the handsets," he said.

RIM plans to offer enterprises a trade-in program for the launch of BB10 devices that will allow customers to trade in their BES licenses for BES 10 licenses at 25% of the actual cost. Depending on the number of users and whether IT chooses a perpetual or annual license, in the 500-999 users bracket, the current list price is $55 per user for the perpetual license, or $27 per user for the annual license.

The transition period "will be another pain point and it becomes a real question of security for BB10," said Brian Katz, director of mobile engineering at pharmaceutical company Sanofi, based in Bridgewater, N.J. 

The integrated BlackBerry platform, however, is still the most secure enterprise mobility option, he said.

BES 10 with ActiveSync offers fewer IT policies

Perhaps the biggest change to the new BlackBerry platform will be how BES 10 handles the syncing of email, contacts and calendars. BES 10 will no longer use mail-system-specific APIs like MAPI, Notes or GroupWise SOAP. Instead, it will use the Microsoft ActiveSync protocol. The new version of BES does not have nearly all the IT policies the current BES supports because of the switch to ActiveSync.

BES 10 does not currently support a fully managed and secured device profile where nothing personal is allowed onto the device, it only supports the BlackBerry Balance model, according to the BlackBerry partner. But, he said RIM is currently working to fix this ahead of the release next year.

"This will need to be added before BB10 devices are launched," said the Blackberry partner. The new BB10 devices will continue to have their traffic tunneled through the BlackBerry infrastructure so IT won't have to open up new firewall ports and they can still use the same outbound connection as BES 5.0.4.

The benefits of switching to ActiveSync are of scalability and flexibility. Currently, BES can only support upwards of 2,000 devices. BES 10 will be able to support 10,000 devices. Also, BES 10 will be able to support every mail server that uses ActiveSync.

One of the early promises of the new BlackBerry platform was the ability to securely manage Android and iOS devices alongside a BlackBerry. That might not be the case, at least initially.

The Blackberry partner said he has a "hard time believing" that UDS integration will be ready for the launch of BES 10 because at the moment UDS has "totally different" server architecture and software components.

RIM apparently wants to integrate the user interface and management consoles for the various platforms first, while leaving the components underneath alone.

"Next step is to integrate the components, but that is usually much harder and takes a long time, potentially two to three years," said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst with J. Gold Associates, an IT analyst firm in Northborough, Mass.

That seems to align with the time frame for when RIM will stop supporting the current version of BES.

"I don't think it's much of a problem for [IT shops]," said Gold in the short term, so long as the unified Mobile Fusion management console "provides functionality and capabilities" that makes managing the different platforms "transparent to the IT guys."

RIM declined to disclose details at this time.

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