Review: BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 Makes Friends With Administrators

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This upgrade comes with server high availability, and a new web-based console makes administrators jobs easier

The latest iteration of Research in Motion‘s enterprise device management solution, BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 (BES 5.0), greatly simplifies centralised mobile phone administration tasks.

Delivering features such as server high availability, a new Web interface, improved deployment status visibility and role-based administration, BES 5.0 will simplify day-to-day mobile device management and allow more effective delegation of tasks among front-line and second-tier administrators.

I tested BES 5.0 for Microsoft Exchange. Pricing starts at $2,999 (£1800) for the software (per server pair) and a single client access license (CAL), or $3,999 (£2400) for the software and 20 CALs. A pack of 500 additional CALs costs $27,999 (£17000). Customers needing 1,000 or more CALs can opt to join the BlackBerry Enterprise License Program for customised licensed packages at additional levels of discount.

Customers with current CALs who wish to upgrade BES from a previous version face a one-time charge of $999 (£600) per server.

To the Test

I tested BES 5.0 for Exchange in conjunction with a range of BlackBerry handsets to ensure compatibility with both the latest and older models in RIM’s fleet. Client software versions ranged from v4.2 to v4.7, as the test bed included the BlackBerry Bold, the Curves 8310 and 8900, and the new BlackBerry Tour.

5.0 features a new Web-based management console called the BlackBerry Administration Service, rather than the desktop software that was needed with previous BES versions.  The Web interface, which can use either Microsoft Active Directory domain credentials or the built-in user database to authenticate administrators, makes it easier for administrators to log in and make quick changes even when not at their primary machine.

However, I was disappointed in the lack of browser support.  BAS works only with Internet Explorer browsers, and perhaps not every version, since I was cautioned by RIM representatives against using BAS with IE 8 (although I did not encounter any issues when doing so).

From the Web GUI, administrators will discover improved flexibility when assigning policy, although I didn’t find the implementation as flexible as I expected in tests. RIM touts the fact that with BES 5.0, users can now be assigned to multiple groups simultaneously, that groups can be assigned to groups, and that policies can be assigned to any of those groups or directly to a user’s account.

I expected to be able to tier and structure policies, creating a default policy that could apply to the entire user population and layer on additional policies that would apply to subsections of the inventory, something analogous to how Group Policy works in Active Directory.

What I found was that only one policy can be assigned to a user. If a user is assigned an individual policy, applicable group-assigned policies will be ignored. If multiple policies are assigned to the same group, only the policy with the greatest precedence will be enforced. Administrators therefore must take great care to establish a hierarchy of policy precedence to ensure that rules are deployed as expected.