Blackberry Enterprise Server

Improved administration, support for web services, and a visual development tool distinguish version 4.1.

February 16, 2006

4 Min Read
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It seems like just yesterday Network Computing was evaluating BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.0 for Microsoft Exchange in our mobile e-mail roundup. Since then, Research In Motion has made some significant upgrades, forging ahead with its product offerings despite the current legal wranglings with NTP. BES 4.1, the back-end platform that handles communications with BlackBerry handhelds, includes improvements in management, administration and instant messaging, and brings updates to the Mobile Data System.

I tested a late beta of 4.1 for Microsoft Exchange in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®, analyzing new capabilities, such as its support for Web Services and a visual tool for creating forms-based applications. This version, as well as one for IBM Lotus, will be out later this month or early next; a version for Novell GroupWise will follow soon.

RIM helped me unleash the gadget geek inside by sending the newly released BlackBerry 8700c, though you can take advantage of the new capabilities on any BlackBerry with 32 MB or more of Flash memory. Other Blackberry devices still will have baseline functionality for groupware synch and e-mail capabilities, but they won't be able to take advantage of BES' newer features, such as enterprise IM. BES 4.1 supports three enterprise IM servers: IBM Lotus Sametime, Microsoft Windows Messenger/Live Communications Server 2005 and Novell GroupWise Messenger.


• Unified management interface• User group administration facilitates management of large and small deployments

• Visual development tool eases the pain of developing mobile applications


• MDS applications not fully integrated with other device management capabilities• Some features only available for newer BlackBerry handhelds meeting minimum memory requirements

**BlackBerry Enterprise Server 4.1, starts at $2,999, Small Business Edition starts at $1,099. Research In Motion, (877) 255-2377, (519) 888-7465.

RIM has unified server and device administration in a single interface, eliminating the Handheld Configuration Tool that was used for many device-management tasks in previous versions. Although some capabilities were tricky to configure at first, requiring changes outside of the BlackBerry Manager GUI, those tended to be options that administrators would "set and forget," such as preparing the BlackBerry configuration database for administration using Windows-based accounts and groups. It's also nice to see that you now can use the administrative console to create groups, add users to them and assign software configurations and policies at the group-level, facilitating the management of enterprise-scale deployments.

RIM also has enhanced its support for role-based administration. BES 4.1 has a number of pre-defined administrative roles, ranging from full control to basic user management. Because all system configuration is stored in an SQL database, these roles can be tied to SQL logins for administrators, but those operating Windows networks will prefer to associate these roles with Windows users or groups to minimize the number of accounts to track. But that requires manually setting the permissions to give those Windows accounts access to the SQL database, the process for which will vary based on the database you use.

Grow Your Own

RIM released the Mobile Data System (MDS), an upgrade to its Mobile Data Services, as an add-on for BES 4.0 in late November. Now its capabilities have been more fully integrated into BES 4.1. Significant is support for Web Services and a new visual development environment, MDS Studio, for creating BlackBerry applications. MDS Studio lets you rapidly prototype an application, by querying a WSDL (Web Services Description Language) URL and creating the applications screens and input forms based on information received from the data source. You can combine multiple WSDL URLs in a single mobile app.Using the AskMeNow WSDL, I prototyped a simple movie listings app. Once the basic screens were created by MDS Studio, I could retool them to my heart's content, rearranging input boxes, modifying captions, even creating new screens. MDS Studio can test the application by rendering the interface for BlackBerry devices within the Windows development environment. That's useful if you don't want to have to provide each developer with every device you have in the field. Once I created the application in MDS Studio and published it to the MDS application repository on our BES box, I easily pushed it out to my BlackBerry device by selecting it from a list of known devices running the MDS client software.

Depending on the policy set by administrators, users can also download MDS applications directly from their mobile devices. Applications created with MDS Studio can't be integrated into the automatic software configurations for installing and restoring apps on devices, however.

Third-party Blackberry Connect devices, such as the Nokia 9300 and the Palm Treo 650, weren't available to give us a chance to see how BES 4.1 fared with them. They've been slow to market in the United States, but should be hitting these shores later this quarter. Meantime, enterprises where Blackberrys are deployed will be interested in BES 4.1, thanks to the significant strides RIM has made in the new release.

Dan Renfroe is a technology associate focusing on wireless and mobile technologies with the Center for Emerging Network Technologies at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].

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