BlackBerry's BES mess: No more Express Server version, says RIM

Research in Motion's message on future enterprise products is confusing. It's a mess. Here's what we've learned: small-medium sized business relying on BlackBerry freebies may not like what's coming.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

ZDNet has learned that BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express 5 will be the final free version of the small-medium sized business software.

The free BES Express 5 model gave small-medium enterprises free client access licenses. But as there will be no BES Express 10, there will be no free-of-charge model. 

The Canadian smartphone giant has not yet announced pricing for BES 10, but ZDNet was told that the BES 10 server installation will be free of charge -- as is Mobile Fusion Server in its current form. However, RIM will charge for devices that connect to the server.

BES 10 and Mobile Fusion: the same thing

BES is the business and enterprise communications solution that offers secure email and messaging. Its consumer counterpart, BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) allows ordinary users to receive standard and non-enterprise grade secure email, such as Hotmail or Gmail, to their BlackBerry devices.

The BES secure messaging system remains a unique selling point for the mobile device and data infrastructure company, however ruffling the feathers of its enterprise IT spending watchdogs will hardly help the company's relations, which was recently branded as being at an all time low.

As we already know, BlackBerry Mobile Fusion Server 6 will be renamed BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 (BES 10) when it is launched next year, explained Jeff Holleran, senior director of RIM's Enterprise Product Management unit in a blog post.

In the process, RIM's Mobile Fusion will effectively become BES 10 when it is released simultaneously alongside the newer BlackBerry 10 devices. Mobile Fusion will 'sit' on top of other server modules that allow the administration of BES 5 devices, BES 10 devices, as well as Android and iPhones. 

RIM previously said that BES 10 will be the "ultimate management solution for all BlackBerry platform devices." 

Because BES 5 isn't forward compatible or able to manage BlackBerry 10 devices, BES 10 will only support BlackBerry 7.1 and older devices if a BES 5 server is effectively sitting in the middle acting as the 'broker' between the two BES versions.

RIM acquired Ubitexx in May 2011 for the Mobile Fusion software. It was bought as a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) addition to BlackBerry networks, but also for the intention of managing the QNX-based BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. Mobile Fusion has thus far only been used to manage PlayBook tablets and not BlackBerry smartphones. 

Mobile Fusion at the moment is free to download, but there are license costs associated with it. Client access licenses for each BlackBerry device associated with the Mobile Fusion device can cost anywhere from $50 each for 1,000 or more licenses, or up to $99 each for four or fewer licenses.

Express and go: No more 'freebies'

Many organizations took advantage of the free BES Express 5 download as it has no additional charges for client devices.

RIM is quite generous with allocations, allowing for 2,000 BlackBerry smartphone users per server [PDF]. But because the Express version is not being brought forward to BES 10, enterprises will likely incur additional costs to run both newer BlackBerry 10 and legacy BlackBerry 7.1 and older devices on the same network.

When a legacy BlackBerry 7.1 or older version is retired and replaced with a BlackBerry 10 device -- before there was not license cost to connect to Express -- there will be charge to connect the new device to BES 10.

However, as there will not be a BES Express 10 version, ruling out a free secure messaging platform for small-medium sized businesses, there will no longer be a free-of-charge usage model as users enjoyed in BES 5. Instead, RIM will charge a fee for every BlackBerry 10 device connected through to BES 10.

Situation normal? Two servers needed

Enterprises and businesses considering acquiring the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones in an existing network with legacy BlackBerry 7.1 and older devices will require both BES 10 and legacy BES 5 servers to operate. 

Research in Motion clarified that it will be necessary to install separate versions of BES: a version of BES 5 for BlackBerry 7.1 and older devices that are current available, and a version of BES 10 for the newer, yet to be released BlackBerry 10 devices.

This means businesses wanting to run older BlackBerry devices and the upcoming BlackBerry 10 devices on the same network, two separate Windows Server installations will be required to run both BES 5 and BES 10. (This can mean two physical Windows Server machines, or two virtualized Windows Server installations.)

Initially the two servers would run in parallel at launch, before a service pack update in May when there would no longer be a need for two servers. The service pack will simply allow the two BES application servers to run in on the same machine without the need for two separate virtual or physical servers.

When approaching RIM about this story, a spokesperson told ZDNet (emphasis mine):

BlackBerry 10 customers of any size will have the option available to connect BlackBerry 10 devices securely, directly to their mail servers out of the box using the ActiveSync protocol. This includes management policies for users and groups.

With BlackBerry 10, we are making more connectivity options available to our customers in order to meet their diverse mobility needs, including cross-platform device management and more BYOD support with BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10.

We have not yet announced the roadmap for BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express.

It's our view that RIM hasn't fully thought through the impact of removing the free tiers from the whole BlackBerry 10 proposition. After all, why would you have a free Express version of a product that is already free?

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