Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RIM launches BlackBerry service for Office 365 users

Research in Motion (RIM) launched BlackBerry® Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365--a new service for organizations to extend Microsoft Exchange Online to BlackBerry® smartphones.

The service ensures people have industry-leading business collaboration tools while on the go.

Some of the key features include:

• Integration within the Office 365 Administrative Portal for easy management

• Wireless synchronization with Microsoft Exchange Online email, calendar and organizer data from a BlackBerry smartphone

• BlackBerry® Balance technology, which presents a unified view of work and personal content on a BlackBerry smartphone while keeping the content separate and secure

• An intuitive, web-based console for IT administrators to provision, manage and secure BlackBerry smartphones from anywhere

• Online access to employee self-service smartphone security functions, allowing users to easily reset a device password or remotely lock or wipe a device in the event of loss or theft

• BlackBerry security and encryption as well as device manageability

The service is available at no additional charge to current medium-sized or enterprise subscribers of the Office 365 suite or standalone Exchange Online and works with BlackBerry smartphones on business or consumer data plans.
The service has been in beta since last October and its availability removes a hurdle that has existed in some companies that prevented them moving from on-premises Exchange to Office 365.

In any case, it’s good to see the service launched and to be fair to RIM, they have always done a reasonable job of supporting Exchange users. The architecture of the cloud service, including some good information that compares the different variants of BlackBerry servers, security configurations, and the data flow between device, BlackBerry cloud services and Office 365 is described in a document available on the RIM web site.

The diagram above, which shows the different components that are deployed within the solution, is taken from that document. It includes an SSL connection between RIM and Microsoft to enable messages to flow to and from BlackBerry devices.

Connectivity options for Office 365 deployments are enhanced with RIM’s new service and the decision by Microsoft to extend ActiveSync support to Plan K users. Seeing that RIM still has a large customer base that use BlackBerry Enterprise Server with Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2007, this announcement will increase the pace of transition from on-premises to cloud services.

I don’t see the same thing happening for companies that have deployed Exchange 2010 as these companies run the latest and greatest software and have already gone through the upgrade cycle to get there – and had good reason to stay with an on-premises deployment. They’ll probably stay as is until the time for the debate to resume again occurs when Microsoft introduces the next version of Exchange or it’s time to consider refreshing server hardware.