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RIM president hails scalability, partners

CHICAGO -- Security was always the bugaboo that scared enterprises away from wireless data implementations. That changed in 1999, said Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. president and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, when his company launched the first iteration of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server, the behind-the-firewall software built to protect corporate e-mail messages as they stream through the air to a new breed of handheld devices called BlackBerrys.

Five years later, Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM now dominates the enterprise wireless messaging market, boasting more than one million BlackBerry users worldwide and topping 20,000 installations of BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and it won't rest until every major enterprise application supports the BlackBerry Enterprise Server platform. sat down with Lazaridis this week at RIM's Wireless Enterprise Symposium user conference to discuss software licensing, patents and the future of the BlackBerry.

Mike Lazaridis
Mike Lazaridis

 In your opinion, what factors have led to the success of the BlackBerry and BlackBerry Enterprise Server?
The first Wireless Enterprise Symposium was held in 2002, and that was the year of reliability. And for three years, we focused on getting that right -- factors such as network technology, device technology, standards, protocols, applications and synchronization. We'd just gone through the unfortunate events of September 11, and the technology proved itself. [Companies] realized its real worth, and they started deploying it because it was seen as the most reliable method of communication during those events. Why is RIM is currently undertaking the large effort of building out its BlackBerry Connect licensing program?
Because this is our year of scalability. We're trying to scale the industry, and you don't do that alone. You do that with partners. I remember, someone said to me recently, 'Mike, you have a great device, but it's such a corporate device. It's all function. You should concentrate on the form.' And I said, 'Why are you saying that?' Look at the Nokia 6820, which just launched with BlackBerry [software] on it. That's the world leader in the phone form factor. And that's how you scale. You can't do everything yourself. Since then, you're now able to get BlackBerry on several of the leading PDA platforms -- Palm and Microsoft -- and on Symbian smart phones. Are you concerned that you'll be eroding the market for your own BlackBerry devices?
Gosh, no. Are you kidding? It's establishing the BlackBerry as a standard. If you want to look at the leading indicator for this industry ... what I use is adoption of behind-the-firewall BlackBerry Enterprise Servers, which are now over 20,000. The trickiest part of adoption is getting the IT department's blessing, and that's what's happening. All these partner devices can make use of that, and that's what's driving this. You have relationships with many partners, including Microsoft, and Microsoft has struggled with its security. RIM, in fact, released a patch for your Exchange-based BlackBerry Enterprise Servers last fall. Are you concerned about the security issues that may come with working with Microsoft?
That's an issue that Microsoft is tackling head-on. I think they're doing a lot of work on their [Exchange] Server. But keep in mind that with the BlackBerry solution, there is a virtual machine on the device. Being a VM, the applications and the data have no chance of touching the hardware directly, so it's basically protected. The VM is a kind of firewall for applications. Along with your efforts to increase adoption via your licensing program, you're also ramping up your developer program. Why is that important, and what can your customers gain from that?
I think that a lot of ingredients have to be right [for a development community to succeed], but the most important ingredient has to be adoption. And with the success of the platform, clearly we've demonstrated that. There's an ecosystem there. There's a great deal of breadth and depth in the applications. They're compelling and well designed. But it's not just the technology, it's a thriving community, and everything you need to add value to that community is already in place. That's the key to the success of any platform. Your competitors are trying to undermine BlackBerry Enterprise Server's position by saying it's easier to use a third-party server with both BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry devices. What specifically is RIM doing to make it easier for BlackBerry Enterprise Server to run third-party devices?
I would take issue with that statement. There's a difference between apps written for general-purpose computers and apps written for the wireless enterprise. Our applications are built to solve problems. You've got [applications for] customer relationship management, accessing legacy data, industries such as construction, transportation, services, government, military, health care, and it just goes on and on. This platform is all about security, reliability, scalability and manageability. This is not about writing games. It sounds like you're claiming that your competitors can't keep up with the scalability you can offer. Is that accurate?
When it comes to wireless enterprise [applications], yes. June 7 is the next court date in RIM's patent infringement defense against NTP Inc. When do you believe this case will be resolved?
I have no idea. Right now, the most important thing is that is it's in the appeals court. It's being looked at by the director of patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and all the patents are under review, so we just have to let it run its course. The right people are looking at it. How likely do you feel it is that RIM could be barred from selling the BlackBerry in the U.S.?
Gosh, I couldn't say. But it is a possible scenario?
There are lots of possible scenarios. That is a scenario that was put in place, but has been stayed [by the courts]. What do you feel is your biggest competitive threat or obstacle?
It may be a clichÉ, but I think it's people misunderstanding or not knowing what the device and the platform can do, the improvements in quality of life that it offers, the gains in productivity and the competitive advantages for the companies that deploy the technology and the increased communications in the companies that deploy wireless messaging.

In the sense of how big the market can be, we're in the infancy. If we didn't make sure this market is growing, working with customers by educating them and meeting their needs and ensuring everything interoperates, then what we'd be doing is fighting over a niche business. Look how big the cell phone market is. That's a part of the mobile and wireless market, and all those users are going to need access to data. What keeps me up at night is growing the market. It will be much bigger than it is today. This week RIM announced BlackBerry Enterprise Server version 4.0. What's the most critical feature of the new release?
The biggest issue is this issue of scale. We've got customers who want to go from hundreds to thousands [of users], and those who want to go from thousands to many thousands and beyond. The No. 1 issue is there's no need for a desktop or a cradle. It was an incredibly ambitious goal and we've worked incredibly hard on it. Maybe anyone can do it, but how many can do it without losing FIPS certification, or losing the security and, in a way, that's seamless.

The second thing is we've made everything wirelessly synch, so you can literally buy it anywhere, turn it on, type a few things into it -- like your e-mail address and password -- and the device comes to life. You don't have to figure out what server you're on or the IP address of your company. You can be on the other side of the globe and it just works. But we've got JavaScript in the browser, JPG/TIF/GIF support and all the other key e-mail attachments can now be viewed. This is literally the most ambitious project we've ever done. What can we look forward to from RIM in the near future?
This is the year of scale. We're going to see an evolution of devices, and we're going to see what works and what doesn't work. We're going to see a lot of innovation and creativity, and availability on more and more countries, networks and platforms. We're also going to see some exciting applications that go beyond e-mail and calendaring.

For more information:

Learn more about RIM's patent struggle with NTP

Read about RIM's efforts to increase BlackBerry development

Dig Deeper on BlackBerry operating system and devices

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