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In-depth: BlackBerry becomes Crashberry as RIM's net fails for hours

By , NetworkWorld.com
April 18, 2007 06:51 PM ET

NetworkWorld.com - One thing is clear about the unprecedented overnight disruption of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail service.

Research in Motion, which runs the service from a network operations center in Waterloo, Ontario, may get a black eye from the net’s failure, but it sidestepped a haymaker, apparently by sheer luck. That’s because the disruption began in the evening, when most North American users were past or near the end of their business day.

If the service had stopped at 8 a.m. Eastern Time instead of 8 p.m., “there would have been panic in the streets,” says Frank Gilman, CTO for Allen Matkins, a big Los Angeles law firm that, like many other white collar companies, seems to be powered by an endless stream of e-mails to and from BlackBerry handhelds.

Sometimes called “Crackberries” because of their addictive nature, the wireless devices are reshaping organizational work habits and expectations, liberating users from the office even as they introduce a new level of stress and anxiety according to some researchers. RIM’s success has attracted plenty of rivals, including Microsoft, as more and more enterprises seek to extend corporate e-mail to mobile devices.

The impact of the outage in BlackBerry service varied widely, according to some enterprise users. Some slept through it. Some had e-mails delayed for three or four hours, others for twice that long. Some were running into delays as late as Wednesday morning eastern time.

Even now, nearly 24 hours after RIM’s network started getting flakey, the company has given its customers almost no information about what went wrong, how it went wrong, or what RIM is doing to minimize it happening again.

Around 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, RIM sent a confidential “service interruption update” to North American customers. The e-mail says the company’s NOC began investigating about 8:15 p.m. Eastern Tuesday “began investigating monitoring alerts in regards to issues with BlackBerry service.”

“Initial investigations revealed an issue with the BlackBerry Infrastructure. Subsequent troubleshooting efforts were not immediately successful in restoring service,” according to the e-mail. “At approximately [2 a.m. ET, or six hours later] on April 18, in an effort to restore service, the components and services for the BlackBerry Infrastructure for the Americas were restarted.”

The update says that at as of about 9 a.m. ET Wednesday the “service has been operating near expected traffic levels” though some users may see delays until queued-up messages are cleared.

Perhaps optimistically, the update concluded, “Thank you for your continued support, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

The inconvenience seems to have been much less than it would have been if the stream of e-mails had dried up during regular business hours. Nevertheless, there are signs that the impact has been significant. In one Web-based poll conducted Wednesday morning by Profitline, a telecom expense management firm, 81% of respondents (IT and telecom professionals at big companies) said the outage had cause disruptions. Almost 45% said there had been a "moderate or substantial" impact to enterprise productivity, according to ProfitLine.

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