BlackBerry service down - again

CNBC and Engadget Mobile have a story about the Blackberry service being down again. Now there is even a website dedicated to alerting users of problems .

Now, the problem is not that it goes down or for how long it goes down - no system has 100% uptime. The problem is best quoted from the CNBC article "RIM was not immediately available for comment and its e-mail gave no estimate on when service may be restored or how many individuals could be affected"

In other words, if you are responsible for the messaging infrastructure for your company and the President's BlackBerry stops working, he will call you and what are you supposed to say? "....I don't know what the problem is, how severe it is, or how it will be fixed because it is completely out of my control and RIM won't even comment on it". This is one of the key reasons why companies are migrating their BES infrastructure to Windows Mobile: control.

Here is a list of what I personally think are a the critical challenges with RIM's architecture:

  • All emails go through the NOC - which is another single point of failure as the events today prove. There is no value in having a NOC for customers. The theory that a NOC gives you more security is a fallacy. As I wrote before, it is not like a bunch of super smart engineers got in a room to decide what was the best way to deliver email and came up with the NOC. No, RIM uses a NOC because they have to. It is RIM's heritage from their pager roots. Remember, BlackBerries were, not too-long ago, just pages on a Mobitex network.
  • RIM defines the architecture. Sure it may be safe, but it is not the company's architecture, it is RIM's architecture. If you deploy Blackberries you don't get a choice, you deploy them the way every Blackberry is deployed. It's a black-box.
  • BES Servers are super-administrators. This is the killer that should have every CIO worried: Imagine a tunnel coming from Canada straight into your server room, to a server you don't control which has super-administrator access to all the email in your organization and everyone's personal information thorugh Active Directory. An IT manager has no control - not even visibility- into what comes or goes thorugh this tunnel. It has not happened yet as far as I know, but if anyone penetrates this system they could do whatever they wanted and you would have no way of even knowing there is a problem. In contrast, ActiveSync works with your security architecture, and every packet sent could go thorugh an advanced firewall like ISA server, which would decrypt, analyze and then encrypt the message again and allow it thorugh, using rules defined by the IT department on what to allow and what to glag.
  • BES Servers are not highly-available. To my knowledge, there is no replication, clustering or other high-availability technology in BES servers. This means that every user is tied to one server and if that server crashes then the user does not have service anymore. In contrast, Exchange servers (even front-end servers) can be put in clusters to that if one crashes, or explodes, or someone unplugs the server by mistake, the other servers will take on the load and the user most likely won't even notice it.
  • BES Server are like nagging babies. Because BES servers rely on an outdates MAPI protocol, they get email from the Exchange server by asking over and over and over again for email for each individual user. Imagine the conversation between the BES and the Exchange server "Do you have email for Joe? no, how about now? and now? how about now?". This is effectively a pull technology which is highly inefficient. Most organizations with large numbers of users have to buy additional Exchange servers just to handle the BES servers asking over and over again for every user.
  • BES Servers cost money. Sure RIM is lately giving these server licenses away, but many companies have to pay a license for the server, CALs for every user, technical support, the actual server hardware, a server administrator (or three, in case the server crashes on a Saturday evening, someone has to go in and restart it), training (including RIM's conference in Orlando), and upgrades. In an era where IT groups are looking at virtualization and consolidation, buying more servers and having to worry about supporting, maintaining and upgrading them is not something IT is happy about. Especially when you can get mobile email for free, at minimum (if any) performance impact, with security and management features with Exchange 2007. And you get a better email experience including HTML email, IRM protected messages and server search, which you cannot do with Blackberries.

These I think are the reasons why I have yet to meet an IT manager, director or CIO who after learning about WIndows Mobile tells me "You know, we are pretty happy with BlackBerry and we plan to continue using them as our wireless platform for the future".

As a reminder, all posts on this bnlog represent my personal opinion which may not be the same of my employer. Your comments are welcome as always.