BES 10.1 is here to stay?

Last week Blackberry (formerly RIM) announced their earnings, and things were less than stellar.  Moving 2.7 million Blackberry 10 devices may sound somewhat impressive at first blush, but compared against the competitors in the field - Apple and Samsung moved 38.3 million and 64.7 million respectively - it is less than a drop in the bucket.  It's no surprise then that their stock plummeted 26% after the earnings were announced.  No matter how you slice and dice the numbers, things still don't look rosy for Blackberry.

This begs the question, is it worth setting up a BES 10 server?  The short answer (as usual) is that it depends.  The even shorter answer is no.  BB10 devices support ActiveSync without a BES server, so if you allow ActiveSync access and you don't care about Blackberry Balance, then you can happily forgo then newest iteration of BES - and most likely all future iterations.  If that's all you wanted to know, you can skip the rest of this post and jump to my as yet unwritten post on Exchange 2013. (link forthcoming)

Still here?  Sweet.  Then let's dive into a little more detail about why BES 10 is not a game changer, it's an attempt to catch up.  The main reason most companies implemented BES in the first place was the fact that they wanted an MDM solution and an excellent mail platform with bullet-proof security.  If you want to keep using those Blackberry features with the advent of BB10 devices, then you will have to add a BES 10 server.  BES 5 is not capable of managing BB10 devices.  But don't go planning BES 5's demise too quickly, you'll need to keep it around in order to support your legacy Blackberry devices.  That's right, for whatever unfathomable reason Blackberry decided that BES 10 would not be able to manage legacy devices.  One gets the feeling that BES 10 was rushed out the door before it was properly ready in order to staunch the hemorrhaging stock value of Blackberry, a plan that does not appear to have worked.

There are three features that might make BES 10 worth your while.  The first is Blackberry Balance.  Balance is a logical separation of the personal and work related items on a user's device.  The two partitions are distinct containers, and the BES 10 has complete control over the corporate side without touching the personal side.  Password policies can be applied, data can be wiped, and content secured all without forcing a user to follow any security precautions on their personal side.  That's a boon to BYOD shops that want a secure container.  The fact that it is seamlessly woven into the OS makes this implementation both more secure and usable.

Blackberry also introduced the Universal Device Service with BES 10.  The UDS allows iOS and Android devices to be provisioned and managed via the BES.  For shops that do not have a current MDM solution beyond ActiveSync - which is hardly a real MDM solution - this provides a simple way to secure those devices and add a modicum of control.  This feature initially struck me as a toss-away until Blackberry released BES 10.1.  Which brings me to the 3rd and most important feature.

Blackberry Balance is nice, but you need a BB10 device to use it.  What if Balance existed for iOS and Android?  Wouldn't that be awesome?  Well, to a certain degree it now does with the announcement of Secure Workspace for iOS and Android on BES 10.1.  Secure Workspace is a combination of a secure set of applications from Blackberry as well as a wrapped version of an office application for editing documents.  The Blackberry applications include a content space, email client, and browser.  All of these applications use the BES server for communication and are in a separate container from the rest of the data on the device.  Documents cannot be moved in or out of the container and cut, copy, and paste can also be disabled.  There is a Blackberry client that needs to be installed and provided with admin privileges to allow the MDM policies to be enforced.  Blackberry has intimated that there will be additional wrapped applications coming available as well as an SDK for app developers to write their own secure applications that can share in the container.

If all this sounds remarkably familiar, it is essentially was Blackberry's competitor Good has been doing for quite sometime.  Good recently got into the app-wrapping business with Good Dynamics.  There are also a number of other MDM solutions trying to break into the Mobile Application Management sphere including AppSense, AirWatch, SAP's Afaria, and Mobile Iron for starters.  This seems to be a growing area of development and the dominating players have yet to shake out.  Blackberry has now made their own foray into the battlefield against some pretty entrenched adversaries.  Will their initial assault be a surge or sputtering?  Only time will tell, but stranger things have happened.

My conclusion is that if you are an ActiveSync and Blackberry shop and you are looking for an MDM/MAM solution, it might be worth your time to look into BES 10.  The server software itself is free after all.  BES 5 CALs can be transferred for free until the end of December 2012 - expect that date to shift - and you can trial the Secure Workspace features for free.  With 10.1 Blackberry added some new features that couldn't quite make it out for the initial release.  Don't be surprised if the next dot version has even more interesting features.  It's obvious they had to rush BES 10 to market without all the features they had hoped to have in place.  They may even fix the glaring error of not supporting legacy devices.

Blackberry is a desperate company, and desperate times call for desperate measures.  They wouldn't be the first company to bounce back from dire straights to become a dominant force.  At the very least, if you've got a spare VM and a little extra time, I'd encourage you to give BES 10 a shot.

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