RIM Touts New, "Free" BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) Express for SMBs

BlackBerry-maker RIM today unveiled a new, slimmed-down version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software for corporate mail deployments. The new software, BES Express, will be available for free, and it's meant to provide some of the core BlackBerry syncing and security functionality without many of the "advanced"--and costly--features currently found in the full BES.

It's a big day for BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM); The Canadian-handset-maker today made a couple of significant announcements in Barcelona, Spain, at this year's Mobile World Congress, including the introduction of a new version of its industry-lauded BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software, BES Express.

RIM's New BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express
RIM's New BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) Express

BES Express is aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that want to take advantage of RIM's wireless BlackBerry mail and calendar syncing services, as well as its basic security safeguards, but don't want to--or can't--pay for RIM's full BES offering.

BES Express will be available "soon" for free, according to RIM. All that's required to employ the service is a BlackBerry device with an Internet-enabled data plan. The full version of RIM's BES starts at about $4000 for a 20-user license, plus the costs of enterprise data plans for all devices on the server.

The product will initially work only with Microsoft Exchange 2010, 2007 and 2003 and Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2008 and 2003. In other words, organizations with IBM Lotus Domino, Novell GroupWise or any other non-Microsoft platforms are out of luck for now.

Here's a list of BES Express features, from RIM:

  • Wirelessly synchronize their email, calendar, contacts, notes and tasks
  • Manage email folders and search email on the mail server remotely
  • Book meetings and appointments, check availability and forward calendar attachments
  • Set an out-of-office reply
  • Edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files using Documents To Go
  • Access files stored on the company network
  • Use mobile applications to access business systems behind the firewall

So what are the main differences between the full BES and BES Express, besides the cost and Microsoft-only support?

Well, BES Express is designed for organizations that don't exactly need the highest level of security, so IT administrators have less control over specific users/devices and which IT policies affect them--BES Express has some 35 IT control policies compared to the full BES's roughly 405 options.

BES Express also doesn't offer the same "high-availability" features found in the full BES, i.e., organizations using BES Express won't have access to the same tools for preventing and recovering from BlackBerry downtime. And Full BES users have access to additional utilities for monitoring and managing BlackBerry infrastructure. (For a detailed chart comparing RIM's various BlackBerry enterprise services, visit BlackBerry.com.)

While the announcement seems to be aimed mostly at SMBs, larger organizations could also benefit, according to BES-monitoring-software-maker BoxTone.

"The average enterprise has some 10 percent to 20 percent penetration of mobile connected devices," says Brian C. Reed, BoxTone's chief marketing officer. "We believe this will swell to some 70 percent to 80 percent of employees will have mobile-connected devices in the next three to four years. And we all know that the user is pushing to connect their own devices while the company isn't ready to buy devices for everyone. "

Reed says companies will need a low-cost, secure and reliable way to connect employee-purchased, or employee-liable devices, and the free BES Express could provide significant help.

"RIM has just eliminated the 'you're more expensive' claim that some have made, which removes another barrier to massive growth," Reed says. "[N]ow the large enterprise can use premium [full] BES for key departments that require heavy duty functionality and for other departments and users that just need basic connectivity, they can roll out BES Express."

Learn more about BES Express on RIM's website.

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