Understanding the basics of Blackberry Enterprise Server Express

A BlackBerry may not be as hip as an iPhone or an Andriod, but the company's latest free server software could maintain its reign in the enterprise.

BlackBerry is the business standard for mobile devices, but the versatility and cost advantages of flashy alternatives like the iPhone and Android are tempting many users. However, Research In Motion Ltd. -- the maker of the BlackBerry -- has a not-so-secret weapon that may help keep it on top: BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express. This free software brings wireless synchronization to BlackBerry handheld devices, and it offers a plethora of management capabilities.

BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) Express supports up to 2,000 users when run on dedicated servers and at least 75 mobile users when installed on the primary mail server. It works with most personal BlackBerry data plans, comes with free client access licenses (CALs), and offers full security and encryption. The software also provides wireless email, calendar and contact synchronization. In addition, BES Express includes self-service and intranet support, remote file access and attachment editing.

Hardware requirements depend on the number of users who need to be supported. For example, in a Windows Small Business Server environment that supports 75 users, an additional 1.5 GB of RAM -- at minimum -- needs to be added to the existing Exchange Server. For deployments that support 1,000 users, a dedicated server with at least 3 GB of RAM, a pair of 2 GHz Intel Xeon processors and a minimum of 36 GB of drive space are needed.

BES Express works with many Windows Server operating systems, as well as Microsoft Exchange 2003 and later and SQL Server Express. There are additional requirements based on the security foundation and networking.

BES Express can be downloaded for free if you fill out the contact information form. This form also sends over licensing information to activate BES Express and provides access to technical support, online forums, frequently asked questions and other resources.

Once downloaded, BES Express takes about three hours to install and configure. Since the installation is step-driven and complicated, it's important to review the documentation and become familiar with advanced administration techniques.

BES Express is managed via the BlackBerry Administration Service, which runs within an Internet Explorer session as graphical user interface (GUI). The management GUI is laid out in a logical fashion, offers drill-down capabilities, and groups similar tasks such as users, accounts and security. Administrators can create IT policies, schedule upgrades and remotely install applications from the management console. Research In Motion bundles in many predefined policies; additional policies are available under the website's Policy Reference Guide.

For smaller environments, especially those running Small Business Server, BES Express is almost an install-and-forget application. Of course, as new devices are provisioned and users change, an administrator will have to go in and manage BES Express as needed. In relatively static environments, however, that may be an infrequent occurrence.

Most administrators will benefit from the additional control BES Express offers. You can deploy applications to BlackBerrys, define policies that automatically install line-of-business applications to remote devices and predefine settings such as Wi-Fi connectivity. Lost devices can also be wiped out, locked down or protected in other ways to speed recovery of the device or prevent data theft.

Administrators selecting a standard smartphone for the enterprise should explore BES Express. The capabilities and features offered -- all for free -- may be enough to sway any purchase decision away from a consumer product back to a true business product -- the BlackBerry.

Read more about BES on SearchExchange.com.

Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.

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