Powerful new MDM tool for BlackBerry, Apple and Android devices could give enterprises a reason not to jump ship
Research in Motion (RIM) is now BlackBerry, and the renamed company recently launched the BlackBerry 10 OS. While much attention was focused on phones running the new OS, we decided to take a closer look at the company's new management platform called BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10), which unites mobile device management (MDM), security, unified communications, and application management.
BES 10 is required for managing BlackBerry 10 devices. BES 10, BlackBerry Device Service (for managing PlayBooks and BlackBerry 10 smartphones) and the Universal Device Service (to handle iOS and Android devices) can all run on the same server, whether it's physical or virtual.
For now, enterprises will need to maintain separate physical servers running BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.x to manage BlackBerry OS 7 and earlier devices. But a May service pack will permit BES 5.03 and above to run on the same physical or virtual server as BES 10 - which should provide IT managers with important opportunities for server consolidation.
[ALSO: The best BlackBerry 10 apps
FIRST LOOK: BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10]
We installed BES 10 on a Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 running SQL Server 2008. The step-by-step setup application should be familiar to BlackBerry administrators; it required about three hours to load and configure all modules. Once finished, I had the BlackBerry Device Service, Universal Device Service, and BlackBerry Management Studio ready for adding users and devices.
The BlackBerry Device Service admin console, which includes a left navigations section and quick access menu, mirrors the layout of past BlackBerry Enterprise Server software, so only brief refresher training should be needed. IT staff have a full range of options to create and manage users, groups and security policies.
My testing included a new capability to establish application spaces on devices as part of the provisioning process. This works using BlackBerry Balance technology, one of the most significant additions to BlackBerry 10 OS.
-The Administration Service helped me create a work space (domain) and personal space on BlackBerry 10 devices - which separate a user's business and private information and apps. For example, I specified that the work space contain mandatory internal apps and certain public apps from BlackBerry World. I also pushed a list of recommended apps to users that were included in my corporate app storefront (BlackBerry World for Work).
In addition, I also made some public apps available in the personal space, yet allowed them to be configured separately.
Here's a real-world example. Say an employee is your official social media representative. That person could have Twitter configured in their workspace with the company Twitter account. Their personal space would access their own Twitter account - so there's little chance of posting personal tweets on behalf of the company.
To streamline workflow, BlackBerry Device Service now allows users self-service activation of multiple devices - and they can select whether it replaces an existing BlackBerry device or is an additional device. Moreover, device activation is simplified - users no longer have to enter an ID code or server address. For flexibility, activation is done over a wireless network or using the Web Desktop Manager with the device connected to a computer.
The Universal Device Service lets your IT staff manage iOS and Android devices. I employed drag-and-drop functionality to assign groups, IT policies, software configurations, and profile to user accounts with these non-BlackBerry handsets.
Specifically, I controlled Wi-Fi profiles and certificate profiles for iOS devices and Android devices - and VPN profiles and e-mail profiles for iOS devices. Further, you can provision and manage work applications on these devices. Other capabilities let me view the device inventory for my test organization and to use Microsoft ActiveSync gatekeeping to block unauthorized devices from configuring Microsoft ActiveSync to connect to my infrastructure and access work e-mail.
What you can't currently do with iOS and Android devices, however, is deploy a balance-like setup where work and personal life are kept distinct; that's only possible with BlackBerry 10 OS phones and tablets.
BlackBerry Management Studio provides a simplified way to perform many common day-to-day tasks for devices in your organization. From the web console, we viewed the devices assigned to a user and clearly saw the administrative tasks we could perform for each device, such as resending an IT policy. Further, I assigned user accounts to groups based on common criteria, including user location or device model. Conveniently, Management Studio links to the associated administration console so you can quickly perform more advanced tasks, perhaps creating very granular IT policies.
Is BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 enough?
BlackBerry seems to be going all out in accommodating its core enterprise clients and getting them onboard with their new OS and phones. Beyond integrating multiple device management products to reduce the work of technical staff, BlackBerry is also letting customers trade up their existing BlackBerry Enterprise Server licenses on a one for one basis for free, through Dec. 31. However, organizations still need to pay the per-device perpetual license, which is $90 each in volume, and BlackBerry charges separately for support and consulting services.
So, is this enough to keep BlackBerry in the game? I believe BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 demonstrates that BlackBerry hasn't lost its edge in security and other aspects of device management. BlackBerry notes that about 1,600 customers have enrolled in the BES 10 readiness program. Moreover, BES 10 has already received FIPS 140-2 certification; this computer security standard allows BES 10 to be used by U.S. government agencies. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it would pilot BES early this year.
But for BlackBerry to become truly relevant again, it must stop the defection of individual purchasers as they embrace iOS and Android devices. BB 10 OS and the BlackBerry Z10 phone have generated positive interest and sales. The hardware available now doesn't leapfrog anything from Apple, Nokia or Samsung - but it's solid and complete at launch.
There are roughly 100 MDM competitors, including Good Technology, MobileIron and Zenprise (now part of Citrix). The advantage BlackBerry holds is that it's established in many enterprises globally and has embraced the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy for a while. BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 manages BB 10, iOS and Android devices with aplomb - and provides some fairly unique features with work and personal workspaces.
I don't believe an organization would build their MDM infrastructure fresh with BES 10. But that would be a rare case, since most already have BES handling their existing BlackBerry users. For the majority of institutions, BES 10 is a very good reason to bring in BB 10 devices while also accommodating Apple and Android users - all in an easily managed and secure environment.
As such, don't count BlackBerry out yet.
Heck manages portals for a large pharma company and writes about enterprise applications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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