RIM: Not Enterprise/Government Ready

Rob Enderle

Last week was the second time RIM put its customers at risk. This time, however, these customers found themselves disconnected without explanation for an extended period of time.

 

The lack of notification, the lack of accountability, and the lack of any real evidence the core problems have been addressed make RIM unacceptable as a large enterprise, or government, service provider.

 

Requirements

 

Smartphones have largely replaced pagers as the way a large cross-section of professionals -- including doctors, police, lawyers, politicians, executives and care providers -- manage their day, deal with changing events, and stay in touch. In effect, they are as important to these people as a telephone is, and they carry a much broader responsibility than ever before.

 

Communications are held, largely because of their importance, to high quality levels, and quality is largely measured by availability. Outages are typically measured in seconds and, with lives on the line, longer service breaches not only aren't acceptable -- they are seldom tolerated.


 

This speaks to the incredible importance of timely communications. If a doctor and patient can't communicate, if an off-duty police officer can't be paged, and if a politician or government official can't be contacted, the results can be catastrophic. This extends to financial, where an unplanned disconnection could make the difference between a massive profit and a loss in a stock trade, or the inability to close a deal which then goes to a competitor, or the loss of a frustrated major customer who can't make timely contact.

 

For better or worse, RIM placed itself into an industry that requires a massive focus on assuring uptime, and not only did it not meet this requirement, its actions indicate it never intended to.

 

History of Customer Abuse

 

During the NTP IP litigation, a core of RIM's defense was that large numbers of critical customers, including those I listed above, would be disconnected should NTP prevail in its injunction, putting the nation, and likely several others, at risk. These agencies received special protection.

 

In effect, RIM held the U.S. Government and key enterprise clients hostage to assure a positive outcome to their trial. Not only was that incredibly distasteful, particularly given current world events, they appeared to be more than willing to go through with this threat for those not so well connected. This forced these entities to both come to their defense in court and to work through workaround programs that would allow their critical employees to remain connected should RIM decide not to settle.

 

In the decades I've been in and covered technology, I have never seen a company of RIM's stature so blatantly abuse the trust they had been given. This simply showcased a complete lack of regard for their customers, who they seemed to believe were expendable in their war with NTP.

 

I would think those customers might take issue with that assessment.

 

The Current Problem: More of the Same

 

The most recent outage began on April 17 and ended mid-day on April 18. The only timely alert that came out was apparently from some of the carriers who, under a wave of customer calls, indicated the problem wasn't theirs but was RIM's. RIM remained nearly silent until after the event ended.

 

Their explanation is chilling in both the lack of competence it appears to represent and the lack of customer commitment it clearly emphasizes. I could go on to suggest it may imply RIM thinks IT buyers are stupid.

 

Evidently on the night of the 17th, RIM applied a patch that had been inadequately tested; this patch brought the system down. It then attempted to fail back to the previous build only to find that this process had evidently also been inadequately tested -- it failed as well.

 

This is a failure of process and two back-to-back system failures. We add to this the lack of notification and we have something called a Cluster....

 

Now, any senior IT manager knows you don't do system updates on critical communications systems during the week. You find dead time on the weekend, you test the hell out of it, you assure recovery works, and then you let it go. If it fails, you immediately notify customers that there is an outage and how long it is likely to continue. Given it is their e-mail system you've killed, you can't send them an e-mail alone -- you need to issue a press statement if the outage is likely to last more than a couple of hours.

 

This last is to prevent collateral damage with your clients.

 

Collateral Damage

 

Because RIM didn't do this, the collateral damage was extensive. RIM customers blamed their IT shops, who blamed their carriers, who scrambled to understand why things weren't working. Individual users were resetting phones and adjusting settings and likely, in some cases, rendering their BlackBerries unusable as they struggled to restore a service they had no power to restore.

 

Clearly customer support calls spiked and as the day wound on people started to panic a little and stories of physical damage to the BlackBerries began to circulate. As bad as this was, it could have been worse, as the day before was the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Had RIM failed on that day, they might have been connected to an inability to respond quickly to that tragedy by those who depended on RIM for their connectivity. In short, they missed by a few hours what could have potentially become a company-ending event.

 

RIM Can't Be Trusted

 

The lack of accountability with this event, coupled with what appears to be practices inconsistent with a company in RIM's business, has some suggesting that this is not an accurate disclosure of what happened. That this is part of an effort to cover up what could be a critical problem with regard to the security or reliability of RIM's systems.

 

Whether true or not, the lack of notification alone breached the necessary trust that must surround any communications technology, particularly one that is so critical in today's world.

 

By RIM's own actions, it has clearly shown it can't be trusted. It has now repeatedly put its customers at unnecessary risk. That should be taken into account when you choose service providers. If you can't trust the vendor, there is no basis for doing business with them.

 

Yesterday RIM announced a service that would allow people to put their non-BlackBerry devices under the RIM service. That seems ill-advised at this time.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 24, 2007 5:09 AM Troy Atwood Troy Atwood  says:
This is Troy Atwood, VP of Technology, from IT Business Edge. The fundamental issue at hand is not RIMs ability to deliver reliable service, but users confusing wireless, DSL, cable, and other like services with MA Bells plain old telephone (POTS) service that the FCC mandated 99.9999% reliability. Check out the legal terms on the Blackberry.com website and you will find this statement verbatim RIM MAKES NO WARRANTY THAT ANY SERVICE WILL BE AVAILABLE, UNINTERRUPTED, TIMELY, SECURE OR ERROR-FREE.Anyone that uses technology for mission critical applications that does not have a guaranteed SLA is going to get burned. Granted RIM handled the situation poorly and needs to be admonished but so do the users for not reading the not so fine print. Reply
Apr 24, 2007 5:31 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
I wonder how many corporations had that clause altered, I wonder how many large entities will now? Reply
Jun 7, 2007 2:45 AM peter gatzios peter gatzios  says:
RIM engineering is at the forefront of what is at best a black art. They figured out the key ingredients to make wireless data (read email) work, namely: security, transparent messaging in a multi cellular platform, enterprise email support (BES) with push and device design. Email is not a critical service to any organization I've ever worked for or consulted to (in the past twenty years). And these firms make up the fortune ten. Ask around and see how many firms have a disaster recovery plan for their email and what the SLA is.Just one more point, perhaps the hostage situation has created what psychologists call Stockhom Syndrome? (tongue firmly in cheek). Reply
Jun 7, 2007 5:18 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Yes but they arent the only ones, I actually think Good Technology (part of Motorola now) does a better job and was listening to a CEO (sitting in the seat in front of me talking too loud) say that they were pulling the plug on RIM and going generic Microsoft (their new Mobile 6 offering is actually rather good and doesnt need the second mail server). I think youll find financial institutions and government have a disaster recovery system that is fully redundant for mail because of legal requirements but, Ive never actually worked for a firm which hasnt had a disaster recovery solution for email (or hasnt had to use it come to think of it, email servers have issues from time to time). You lose the CEOs email you better have your resume ready Reply
Jun 8, 2007 6:15 AM peter gatzios peter gatzios  says:
Ahh, traditional telco like availability...can't see it happening for ten years at least. Just too many installed base issues and costs. If I remember correctly, when CCS7 was installed the telco finally had alternate routing capability. The auger going through a main copper line can still happen but much less a problem. Having gone through a massive power blackout I still enjoy the benefits of copper and an old rotary handset. Wireless of any flavour not so good in the rain, a basement, busy highway, valleys, crests, tunnels, near power lines, cottages....It's very nature is transient, it's almost silly to compare or to set the same expectations as wireline. I can't wait for the IP-phone generation to discover what happens when the solar panel fails or the dhcp server is offline. No wait, even better, three words. Cellular Phone Viruses. Now that deserves a LOL. Reply
Jun 8, 2007 6:21 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
No kidding, I'm all wireless phones here and its through a cable link so if power goes down I'm screwed. I've got Solar but I'm grid linked so if the grid goes down the Solar goes off-line as well. We've been trying to warn first responders that depending on cell phone services is not the same thing as dedicated networks or the old RIM pager service which no longer exists. We get another 911 and the idea that Blackberries work in a disaster will be proven false big time. Ah well, we are a country that likes to learn by doing. Our middle name is "Pain". Reply
Jun 8, 2007 9:41 AM peter gatzios peter gatzios  says:
Let me make the distinction between "back up" and "backup". Most organizations with SOX compliancy (or other) obligations will have solid backup of all their business processes which includes email. I just don't come across very many people in finance/insurance/pharma that when it comes right down to it are willing to pay the costs associated with critical 100% up-time for email in relation to their other business processes. I also can't think of a company that is only email process oriented. We use email to guide our working day which is why we feel it's so critical. However, if email was down we could still conduct our critical transactions. There will always be exceptions but most of us would be ok. One exception I know of is the US army using RIM devices for troop command. Which is why they were so keen on FIPS-140 and AES-256. Thanks for taking the time to respond I'm always keen for an informed opinion. Reply
Jun 8, 2007 11:08 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
I think you'll find that in financial markets, particularly with traders, and in healthcare (given they have gone in many areas from pagers to smart phones) you'll see this kind of uptime focus. I haven't looked at legal but, having watched what happens when attornies devices stop working, I wouldn't be surpirsed if there and in critical parts of government we see the same kind of care.Overall though this is changing, our dependence on these devices is increasing and we require an incredably (compared to most data requirements) high degree of reliablity in our phone systems and the two, increasingly, serve similar needs. So, I would argue, whether or not we are assuring phone system like availability we should be. Reply
Jun 12, 2007 10:35 AM peter gatzios peter gatzios  says:
Blackberries work great in disasters. Well... just as long as the disaster doesn't take out the cell towers, switching system or the RIM servers. Other than that, you're golden. Unless of course you run out of battery power and you don't have your charger handy. Like when you live in New Orleans and you're stuck on top of your house. So why worry?If I was to ask 100 people, "In a fire, what is the one thing you would make sure you took with you"? I doubt people will start answering with "my Blackberry". :) Hmmm... maybe it depends how many of those 100 people work in government. A topic for another day. Reply
Jun 12, 2007 10:40 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Let's hope we survive until that day... But yes when the two way pager networks came down we clearly lost something. Not sure many in government realize just what that was... Reply
Jun 12, 2007 11:00 AM peter gatzios peter gatzios  says:
we can always move towards LEO sattelites. They are only susceptible to those pesky Russians and their weather altering weapons. But I think it's time to go for a ride. Beautiful day here (43:40:12N 79:22:12W) and I better take advantage before the snow comes. Reply
Jun 12, 2007 11:10 AM Rob Enderle Rob Enderle  says:
Have a great ride! Reply

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