RIM, Good Technology push to get mobile e-mail rolling
GoodLink, BES solutions locked in a fierce competition to become the de facto wireless workforce enabler
See correction at end of review
To me, a mobile connection to the Internet means that my mail server hunts me down wherever I am and tosses my mail to me. Instead, I’ve had to settle for using my phone as a modem and, later, forwarding new mail headers to my phone as text messages. But none of my tricks worked reliably. Business-class mobile messaging is not a do-it-yourself project.
Luckily, there are two mobile e-mail vendors well equipped to handle this task. Good Technology’s GoodLink and Research In Motion’s (RIM) BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) use push technology to deliver new e-mail to a reachable handheld using common wireless networks. Other messaging-related data, including calendars, address books, and folders, is kept in sync with in-house mail servers using the same push technique.
GoodLink Server and BES software augment existing Microsoft Exchange infrastructure (RIM also handles Lotus Notes), forming an end-to-end solution that connects Exchange, the GoodLink or BlackBerry server, the handheld, the wireless carrier, and Good or RIM subscription services in an intricate pipeline.
Good and RIM have done a lot of work to make this rocket science easy for customers to roll out and manage. The result is a pair of solutions that are, in basic structure, almost indistinguishable. Both do exactly what they claim and do it efficiently with a minimum of administrative or user overhead.
But RIM wins the day in essential features and overall architecture. The installation process for BES is cleaner and more automated than that for GoodLink Server, and RIM gives administrators more powerful, finer-grained control over users, security, and services.
Connecting to Exchange
I tested the full GoodLink and BlackBerry solutions in the lab and in the field. Good Technology sent a Treo 600 PDA provisioned to connect to an Exchange server at Good’s site. I worked with the complete set of GoodLink Server documentation, which covers the product’s processes in substantial detail.
RIM sent a BlackBerry 7230 handheld with a copy of BES Version 3.6. I installed BES on a dual-processor Opteron server from MSI, running Windows 2003 Server, and chose Exchange Server 2000. I used Microsoft Virtual Server to let BES run independently from Exchange without complicating the test environment.
Regardless of device, it’s the guts of the client that make GoodLink and BES worth carrying. It takes considerable science to turn an unreliable wireless network into a conduit for reliable messaging. Rather than try to teach your Exchange server to deal with wireless devices, both products use vendor-hosted operations centers to manage the communication. Device presence, front-line security, push events, and sync queuing are handled by the off-site centers.
GoodLink Server and BES handle the device registration and authorization process -- called provisioning -- on-site. To add a handheld device to your wireless messaging network, you dock it at either the user’s desk or a dedicated shared management station. BES handles the entire provisioning process automatically; GoodLink requires a couple of additional steps for each device.
With authentication tied to the device, whoever carries it has authentication, making PDAs popular targets for thieves. GoodLink Server sets security policies for the GoodLink client software, requiring the use of passwords and defining the frequency with which they must be renewed.