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BlackBerry squeezes MS on security, management, and control

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Poll results Mobile email is a hot topic on enterprise agendas at the moment, with many already investing in this area or planning to invest, as we have previously seen.

While there are numerous options open as organisations look to implement and/or scale up their installations, there are some obvious choices to make. One of these, particularly for those in larger environments, very often boils down to deciding between the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), the "Daddy" in this space, and the rapidly evolving native capability of Microsoft Exchange, typically coupled with Windows Mobile devices.

That's not to say that other options don't exist, they clearly do, but rightly or wrongly, the tendency is for many to gravitate towards a short list of two made up of the established market leader, i.e. RIM, and the dominant incumbent for core email servers, i.e. Microsoft.

Comparing these two options can be a bit of a challenge at the moment. The RIM solution has the advantage of maturity – it's been around for a long time now and despite occasional reports of problems in the press, the feedback we get from workshops and surveys suggests that relative to lots of other components in the average corporate IT infrastructure, the BES is pretty solid and robust.

The BlackBerry solution has suffered from a bit of an image problem, however, in that many regard it variously as proprietary, closed, limited to just email and, perhaps, representing an unnecessary layer in the messaging architecture when the general view is that mobile access should ideally be a native part of the core email server environment.

Against this background, the native Microsoft Exchange proposition looks very attractive – it simplifies the architecture (no third party middleware), reduces the software licence burden, and of course as an integral part of something already in place, there is less to worry about in terms of skill sets, coordinating systems administration, and so on.

There is then the argument that Windows Mobile devices themselves are inherently more capable and more attractive and natural to end users as the interface has some similarities with the Windows desktop, and includes lots of bells and whistles to aid productivity or simply keep people amused. Of course, the counter argument to this is that Windows Mobile devices are too cluttered, complex, and distracting, and that the tools and infrastructure required to manage and support them, as well as to administer the mobile messaging relay functionality itself, are relatively immature.

So what's the answer if you find yourself in the position of trying to choose between the two most popular options being considered in the market at the moment?

Well it can feel a bit like comparing apples with oranges, so the key is to stay focused on what really matters. It's no good, for example, deciding to roll out a bunch of sexy new technology to a user base of hundreds or thousands if it's going to incur a lot of cost, overhead and/or risk to the business. Conversely, you don't want the grief of rolling out locked-down restrictive devices that none of your users are happy with.

With this in mind, we homed in on five core requirements that we typically hear are important considerations when making technology choices today – not just in relation to mobile email, but pretty much any solution that touches the user. We then asked Reg readers to tell us whether they regard either of the two options we have been discussing as superior in each requirement area, and if so, by how much. The results were as follows:

The nice thing about this poll is that responses were largely based on direct experience. Around two thirds of respondents said they had been involved in either implementing and/or managing not just one, but both solutions, with the majority of the remainder clearly having more than just a cursory knowledge of the "other" system, even if they had only directly worked with one of them.

At 40,000ft level, the picture we are seeing is one of a solution from RIM that is clearly very mature, having been designed from the outset to meet the needs of larger scale deployments, competing against a rapidly evolving solution from Microsoft that still has some growing to do before it properly fills its enterprise shoes.

In the interests of fairness, however, we must bear in mind that Microsoft's capability in this space has been developing very rapidly recently, so some of the opinions we see expressed in our poll may reflect a bigger gap that currently exists if the Microsoft related experience of the respondent was gained some time ago.

That said, anecdotal feedback suggests that in the areas of management, control, and security, there really is still a pretty big gap in terms of capability between the two solutions. Indications are that while the Microsoft architecture might look simpler at first sight, shortcomings on the administration side of things means larger sites are likely to need a third party management solution in place to achieve the same level of control as BlackBerry customers enjoy out of the box. So, either way, you end up with a third party component sitting alongside your Exchange server.

But the debate rages on and there are points and counter points supporting both the BlackBerry and Microsoft architectures. For those currently trying to choose between these two competing options, we have therefore summarised a representative sample of freeform comments received from respondents during the poll here. So, have a browse through what the various groups are saying and come to your own conclusions. ®

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