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RIM launches free BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express

Manage any BlackBerry without a dedicated server

Many of the stories here at Mobile World Congress are of devices getting cleverer, cheaper and more attractive, but two companies, at least are looking at the bigger picture: how to manage the content and the sophisticated communication capabilities of multiple devices.

After all, few of us use a smartphone only for business; we use them to manage our everyday lives and to keep up with those of our friends and associates. And most of us are choosing that device for ourselves rather than expecting the company we work for to provide it.

As John Herrema, chief marketing officer of Good Technology, explains: "We don't expect to have to keep an iPhone in our left pocket for work use and a BlackBerry in our right pocket for business use. We want a single smartphone that allows us to do it all."

Increasingly, IT managers are faced with an array of devices and expected to enable corporate email and the integrity of the information flow in and out of the organisation across disparate devices and mobile operating systems. With Windows Mobile, Symbian, BlackBerry, Palm, Android and iPhone platforms to contend with, that's a tall order.

This morning RIM, maker of the BlackBerry, announced its take on how small businesses can accomplish this. For BlackBerry users that's BES Express or BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express - a "bring your own device" scenario in which any BlackBerry smartphone can be managed without necessarily requiring the overheads of a dedicated server. Devices likely to contain sensitive business data can have protocols and permissions appropriate to them, while handsets that simply provision access to the shared office calendar and standard email inboxes can be set up accordingly.

RIM's particular excitement about BlackBerry Server Express is that it's offering the service for free. Customers can download and install BES Express on their Microsoft Exchange or Small Business Server, set up the number of client licences they require and take advantage of its simplified management policies and profiles. It can be used with any BlackBerry handset that runs BlackBerry OS 5.0 or better and is suitable for businesses with staff of up to 75 or 100 employees. RIM doesn't limit the number of potential users, but above this figure, a dedicated email server is likely to be necessary.

Although it doesn't offer the high availability and failover assurances or the behind firewall browsing options of RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server product, BES Express is a neat way for RIM to offer broad support for its portfolio of smartphone handsets without the pricey overheads of a managed service.

Given the profileration of solid email and messaging platforms that RIM now has to contend with, it's a smart move. Overheads are kept low but important office security concerns are dealt with. As RIM's spokesman explained to PC Advisor, it allows them to "give BlackBerry to as many people as possible".

A similar approach is being taken by managed messaging company Good Technology. Here, the idea is not simply to offer a uniform interface and administration across different handsets running the same mobile OS but to do so regardless of which operating system is used at all.

Good Technology provides just such a product for its corporate customers in the form of Good for Enterprise, with push email messaging that can be deployed by the IT department and firewalled. It offers a controlled environment, the ability to encrypt email before it's sent and, in the case of handsets provided by the company, the ability to remotely wipe data should an employee leave. Good can do this irrespective of the mobile platform being used and offers the same interaction and attributes across them, making it much easier for the IT manager to maintain.

Similar unified messaging and message management tools are offered as white label products to mobile operators, where items such as embedded social network clients can be included. It has also just done a deal with LG to offer Good Mobile Embedded into the ROM of all LG handsets, allowing for full address book integration and proper unified messaging that works the same way on LG's entire handset portfolio.

It has deals too to manage messaging on other portable devices. Examples include Plastic Logic's Que e-book reader, plus a range of mobile-enabled tablets and netbooks, all of which are every bit as likely to be used to access personal and corporate email on the move.

Hermera describes the current mix and match approach as "bring your own device", a similar idea to that of RIM and its BlackBerry Server Express setup.

And it's at the small business end where such a single approach to the proliferation of many smart devices will be most welcome.

Consumers get to choose their own handsets - and probably stump up for the data charges as part of their mobile phone contract - and the IT guy gets the reassurance of a secure messaging setup irrespective of what that device may be and what mobile operating system it runs on.

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