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Google Apps Connector for Blackberry: Best Of Both Worlds?

Google’s cloud-based Gmail, delivered through enterprise-grade Blackberry servers, sounds like the best of both worlds, but is it?

Google’s new Google App Connector for the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) lets customers access Google’s cloud-based email while still using a fully-managed mobile email platform. This sounds like it might be what enterprise customers have been looking for – keeping a fully managed mobile email platform while using the search giant’s pervasive cloud-based solution.

Tying together Blackberry devices and management infrastructure with Google’s for-pay email services, the Connector enables push email, global address lists and full synchronisation of Google email and contacts – but only partial calendar sync – from the cloud to the corresponding native applications on a company’s managed Blackberry mobile devices.

However, in the Blackberry’s native email application, Google can’t offer all the services and features users have come to expect from Gmail. This means we expect to see Google’s own mobile applications for Blackberry – such as its Gmail client – playing a complementary role on the mobile device alongside the Blackberry application.

Google representatives expect that the Google Apps Connector, which is in beta now, will be available as a free add-on to customers of Google Apps Premier and Education Editions in July.

Mobile administrators would install the Google Apps Connector for BES on their existing Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) for Microsoft Exchange. Google has tested the Connector with BES for Exchange 4.16. The Connector essentially fools the BES software into thinking it is talking to Exchange Server when it is actually communicating with Google’s email servers using OAuth and Google’s sync and data protocols.

BES with the Google Apps Connector may not scale to the level that mobile email administrators have grown accustomed to with their current email infrastructure. Google says it supports only 250 users per BES server due to the architecture and memory footprint of the Connector, although that number may grow in future, as Google has more time to evaluate performance characteristics. For now, however, additional BES servers must be added to support more than 250 users.

Google officials claim that, other than a few initial setup steps, the bulk of the administrative work to configure Google App accounts or provision Google software (like Google Maps or Google Mobile App) to Blackberry devices is done via RIM’s familiar Blackberry Manager.

Our road test

To try out an end user’s experience with the Connector, Google provided me with a Blackberry Curve 8900 preconfigured to work with a test Google Apps domain and BES server – both of which Google configured and maintained. I was not able to validate Google’s statements about the server-side installation, policy management or device configuration in this test.

On the device side, however, I found the Google-powered experience to be a familiar one on a Blackberry. I could use the device’s native email, calendar and contact applications for most things.