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BlackBerry operating system: Should admins stay or should they go?

The BlackBerry operating system used to rock the enterprise, but now that consumer devices are the standard, admins have to decide if they will stay loyal to RIM or not.

The BlackBerry operating system has fallen out of favor among consumers, raising the question of whether IT pros should remain loyal to Research In Motion.

Research In Motion (RIM) was built with secure enterprise access in mind, and the company began its rise when it enabled wireless email outside the firewall. Special software that plugs into popular email systems, such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, combined with the BlackBerry operating system  to make RIM the enterprise standard.

But the rise of touchscreen smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android devices, has sent RIM’s market share plummeting, even among business users. The security and reliability of RIM’s devices, software and network were once the glue that bound the company and the enterprise. But new consumer devices, mobile device management (MDM) options and recent issues with RIM’s network might lead IT to cut the cord.

Pros of the BlackBerry operating system

Despite the rise of the iPhone and Android among consumers, the BlackBerry operating system, network and BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) still give admins unrivaled security and control over devices and data. BlackBerry devices and profiles are customizable and enforceable, so configuring, controlling and enrolling devices are easy tasks for admins. Security features such as screen locks and remote wipe sell RIM and the BlackBerry operating system as a secure enterprise option. Additionally, the BlackBerry network sits outside of the carrier’s network and runs through secure RIM data centers, which allows for tight control and product integration on site.

Considering all the issues that have arisen in IT over the last decade (security problems with unmanaged machines, problems securing and controlling desktops and network entry points), admins might be inclined to stick with the BlackBerry operating system. But RIM’s shortcomings and other vendors’ successes have swayed consumers and could do the same for admins.

Cons of the BlackBerry operating system

In October 2011, there was a significant BlackBerry outage at the RIM data center that took email offline for three days, affecting Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Enterprises control their own BlackBerry software, but the data still has to traverse the BlackBerry network. RIM and some carriers apologized for the outage and offered free apps or a partial refund, but the damage was done. The reliability of the data center had been a big reason to hold onto BlackBerry smartphones, but the outage revealed a fault in RIM.

Device control with BES was RIM’s other saving grace until MDM options expanded. The BES in your environment isn’t doing anything that a Microsoft ActiveSync connector can’t do, and the remote wipe and password protection security controls that BlackBerry touts are available from other consumer platforms as well. Plus, new MDM applications are promising unified control over an array of devices.

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The future looks pretty grim for RIM, which has failed to keep up with users’ demands. The BlackBerry operating system hasn’t changed much, offering only small upgrades to help with Web browser compatibility.  And while BBM Music and App World are nods to consumers, the features seem small compared to all the Apple and Android features available to consumers. And because other consumer devices use direct Internet connections to enterprise email, those devices were unaffected by the outage.

Today, technology is not just the hardware and software IT provides to users. In a way, the mobile market is experiencing the PC revolution all over again. The desire to user personal devices as productivity tools for business is gaining traction among users. If you are nearing the end of your BlackBerry server software contract, it might be in your company’s best interest to take a long, hard look at RIM: Decide whether it’s worth it for your organization to remain invested with the BlackBerry operating system or move that budget to software that can manage the mobile devices people really are using.

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