InfoWorld review: BlackBerry Enterprise Server, express or deluxe?

Extensive BlackBerry Enterprise Server will be indispensable to some, but free BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express is good enough for most

For almost as long as BlackBerry smartphones have been the darlings of enterprise business users, RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) has been the preferred solution for managing these devices and for providing secure access to corporate email. BlackBerry Enterprise Server has grown along the way, with the latest version 5.0.1 sporting a new, simplified Web-based administration interface and groups for easier management of roles, IT policies, and software configurations. BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5 also promises better reliability through server failover features and system health checks. That's all good news for large organizations.

There's also good news for smaller organizations. The just-released BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express provides small and midsized businesses with many of the same security, management, and push technologies of BlackBerry Enterprise Server -- but at no cost beyond their existing Microsoft servers.

[ BlackBerry beware: Next-gen iPhone OS targets enterprise users with multitasking, corporate app distribution, and more. See "Apple stages corporate mobile takeover with iPhone OS 4.0" on InfoWorld. ]

From the BlackBerry user's perspective, BES and BES Express are the same. Both let users wirelessly synchronize email, calendars, and contacts, as well as access files stored on the server. The two products even play together nicely in large organizations. You could use Express to manage personal BlackBerry phones that employees purchase and bring to work, while BES handles the heavy lifting of corporate BlackBerry devices that are deployed in large numbers.

How do these two BlackBerry-only solutions stack up for companies and their IT organizations? I created a Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 test environment to find out.

BlackBerry admin
Installing BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express requires about three hours, including any prerequisite software. (The process is much faster for upgraders, thanks to the BES Transporter Tool.) Experienced IT staff shouldn't have any problem with the step-driven setup application. Others, though, would be well advised to let a consultant do the job. I discovered several unintuitive settings related to user accounts and Active Directory, as well as configuration problems with the Web server that could easily trip you up.

Both editions share the new BlackBerry Administration Service, a Web-based console that only works with Microsoft Internet Explorer. The GUI eliminates the desktop software that was part of BES 4.x, and it's well designed. For example, the home screen provides options for managing users and groups, creating and assigning IT policies, handling operating system upgrades on the handsets, and dealing with applications on smartphones. Administrators can also manage the server from this console.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Scalability (20.0%)
Administration (20.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Device management and security (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.1 9.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 8.3
BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express 5.0.1 7.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 10.0 8.0 7.8
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