Microsoft, RIM expected to unveil new, free hosted Blackberry service

Summary:Microsoft and RIM are set to unveil a new offering, possibly as soon as March 16 -- a Hosted Blackberry Enterprise Service for customers using Exchange 2010 Online, Microsoft's hosted Exchange e-mail service, according to my sources.

Microsoft and RIM are set to unveil a new offering, possibly as soon as March 16 -- a Hosted Blackberry Enterprise Service for customers using Exchange 2010 Online, Microsoft's hosted Exchange e-mail service, according to my sources.

Microsoft already offers a Microsoft-hosted Hosted Blackberry Enterprise Service (BES) offering that costs $10 a month per user. Word is that the new Hosted BES offering will be free for existing Hosted BES users.

One person in the know said the existing Hosted BES offering's end-date is June 30 -- the end of the month during which Microsoft is believed to be launching its Office 365 cloud platform, according to what I've heard. Office 365 is Microsoft's replacement for its existing Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and Live@edu platforms.

Once Office 365 moves from its beta status to final, however, there could be a delay in getting the new hosted BES service on the re-engineered platform, one of my contacts said. Microsoft will likely provide some kind of stop-gap solution that requires some on-premises servers until BES can be updated for Office 365, that contact said. I'm not clear if the price of the new hosted BES service will still be zero once Office 365 goes live or not.

I've asked Microsoft for comment on the expected new BES deal and its Blackberry-hosting plans once Office 365 launches. I will update this post if and when I receive a response.

This just in: Microsoft is confirming the price cut to zero of its hosted BES service, via a blog post on March 16. Microsoft officials also said that Blackberry will be offering a RIM-hosted version of the service for Exchange Online users later this year.

"RIM is only mobile OS that doesn't use (Microsoft) ActiveSync-aware devices and has a separate device management platform - the BES environment," one of the aforementioned sources said. "Most large enterprise customers run a on premise BES server to get the advanced device management."

Here's a description of what the existing hosted BES provides, from a Microsoft blog post dated February 2010:

"The Hosted BlackBerry service from Microsoft Online Services offers the most commonly requested BlackBerry capabilities, including wireless access to e-mail, calendar, tasks and contacts with global address list (GAL) integration, and device management such as device wipe and password reset."

Update: Looks like this is, indeed, happening. When I downloaded the latest (dated March 15, 2011) version of the Mobility Solutions data sheet for Microsoft Online Services, the new free pricing was already in there. Here's a snapshot from that document:

(click on the screen shot to enlarge)

Update No. 2: RIM is holding a "Blackberry for Business" Webcast on March 17 where it will detail new/additional cloud services for the Blackberry. So perhaps the new hosted BES will be unveiled tomorrow....

One more update: Here are my follow-up  questions and Microsoft's answers regarding the aforementioned blog post about the future of BES:

Q: Is the RIM-hosted service going to take the place of the existing BES service later this year, at some point? A: Yes.

Q: So there will not be both a Microsoft-hosted BES and a RIM-hosted BES? A: Correct (Me: with some caveats -- see next Q and A).

Q: However, Microsoft will continue offering BES to its BPOS/Office 365 Dedicated users, right? A: Right.

Q: Who actually hosts the BES servers in the case of the dedicated users? A: Microsoft.

Q: Any comment on my sources’ claims that there will be a gap between the time that BES is available to BPOS users and when it is available to Office 365 users? A: BES is currently available to BPOS users, and it will be available to Office 365 via RIM’s new cloud-based service after Office 365 launches later this year.

Q: Does the RIM-hosted BES also remain free? Or can/will RIM charge? A: As noted in the blog post – it’s free.

Any Hosted Blackberry Enterprise Service users out there? What are you hearing about the new offering and plans around Office 365?

Topics: Microsoft, BlackBerry, Collaboration, Software

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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