Late last summer, when rumors about Research In Motion's (RIM) next generation smartphone OS and handhelds first hit the Web, one particularly hard-to-believe report on BGR.com suggested that RIM's first device running the shiny new OS, which is officially called BlackBerry 10, would not connect to RIM's corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and would instead use Microsoft's popular ActiveSync technology to access corporate mail and PIM apps.
And as it turns out, the report was mostly accurate. In fact, none of RIM's new BlackBerry 10 smartphones will connect to BES, and all of them will support ActiveSync. But that's not the whole story.
RIM's BlackBerry 10 OS will not work will existing versions of BES, but it will employ what RIM VP of Enterprise Product Management Alan Panezic calls "the next generation of BES:" BlackBerry Mobile Fusion.
BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, which is currently available for download in an early, BlackBerry-PlayBook-tablet-only version, is a new software component that will integrate with organizations' existing BlackBerry infrastructure and eventually allow them to manage and secure "smartphones and tablets from any manufacturer", according to Panezic. The initial version of Mobile Fusion with full Android and iOS management features will be released in late March, Panezic says. And RIM will update the software frequently to take advantage of any new security features that Google or Apple build into their respective software over time.
"RIM will not hold anything back," Panezic says. "If there's a security capability that's available we're going to take advantage of whatever is there."
Mobile Fusion is currently available in a free-trial version for 90 days for up to 500 users for the BlackBerry PlayBook only, you must be running the latest version of BES, v5.0.3 to use it. Both Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Domino are supported, and Novell GroupWise support will be rolled out at a later date, Panezic says.
New BlackBerry 10 smartphones will be able to use ActiveSync in the future to connect to Exchange Servers--just like the PlayBook tablet, thanks to the new PlayBook OS 2.0 software update. However, organizations with BlackBerry 10 smartphones that want or need the same level of IT security and management that's currently available via BES should use BlackBerry Mobile Fusion. In other words, a direct BlackBerry 10 or PlayBook connection to Exchange still uses ActiveSync but does not offer any sort of trusted secure communications channel like the one afforded by BES or Mobile Fusion, according to Panezic.
So while the ActiveSync support provides IT admins with a new way to connect BlackBerry smartphones to corporate resources without BES software, it will not eliminate the need for BES or BES-like software. Instead, RIM is creating a new market for BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, and it will continue to offer BES software to organizations that run pre-BlackBerry 10 smartphones.
BES and Mobile Fusion can be managed via one central, Web-based console called Mobile Fusion Studio, so IT shops with both BlackBerry 10 devices and older BlackBerrys can manage devices via the unified interface. Mobile Fusion Studio offers a number of UI enhancements over the current version of BES, Panezic says, so IT shops may still want to upgrade to Mobile Fusion. Mobile Fusion offers significantly more scalability, with support for roughly 10,000 users, compared to about 2,000 per BES, according to Panezic.
What will the introduction of Mobile Fusion and the release of BlackBerry 10 smartphones mean to modern BlackBerry admins?
"The job is going to grow in importance," Panezic says. "[With Mobile Fusion, administrators] are going to go from being 'The BlackBerry Guy" to the 'Mobile Person.' What Mobile Fusion does is give them an administrative role to manage all things in the mobile space," and not just BlackBerry.
During the past couple of years, Panezic says RIM customers have constantly asked him for one secure set of utilizes to help manage the complicated influx of mobile devices in their enterprise.
"Mobile Fusion is a single administration console from a trusted vendor that will help you manage all smartphones and tablets," Panezic says. "It's one stable platform. One set of tools. This is what IT wants.
"Mobile Fusion is really the future," he says. "We look at it as the console of consoles."