Come March, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) will be giving away a free version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software to SMBs as BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express (BES Express). The BES software performs the crucial role of a middle-man to synchronize BlackBerry smartphones with a Microsoft Exchange or IBM Lotus Notes messaging backend, as well as managing the smartphones. To license the full version of BES, RIM charges up to $2,999 per server and $99 per CAL, effectively putting it out of reach of most SMBs.
BES Express will work with the latest versions of Microsoft Exchange, which includes Exchange 2010, 2007, and 2003. While the server software will come with only 35 IT controls and policies (BES has over 450), this covers crucial features such as the ability to remotely wipe a smartphone and enforce or reset device passwords.
Beyond plain e-mail, BES Express will wirelessly synchronize calendar entries, contacts, notes and tasks, and also supports advanced calendaring functions for users to make appointments, book meetings and check availability of schedules. In addition, users can access files stored on the company network, and BES Express comes with a Web-based interface for administration. Advanced features for monitoring and high availability will not be available.
BES Express can be seen as an attempt to target small and medium-sized businesses, which in the past had to either pony up for BES or forgo the BlackBerry platform entirely. Another nugget of information that the major news sites seemed to have missed out on, though, was the fact that BES Express will work with a standard BlackBerry data plan, or BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS). BES requires a higher-tiered "BlackBerry Enterprise data plan," which is often priced at twice the cost of BIS.
I personally feel that such a move is long due, since the high barrier of entry to SMBs due to the cost of licensing BES has stopped many organizations from switching to the BlackBerry. In fact, I have spoken to a RIM manager about this in the past, and the impression I obtained is that RIM was hesitant to forego its steep BES licensing fees. It appears that competitive pressures from rival phones such as Apple's iPhone and the increasing popularity of Android-based phones have forced RIM's hand on this.
Analyst Jack Gold, who is the founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, summed up the move to release BES Express for free:
"Giving a modified version of BES away for free will not cause them major financial hardship, and we expect only limited cannibalization of its BES revenue base. Further, it may allow them to sell more devices to mid-tier and small companies that have steered away from BlackBerry in the past due to the BES requirement."
The bottom line here is that SMBs can now deploy BlackBerry smartphones on their corporate network by simply buying the smartphone and paying for a small monthly BlackBerry data subscription. In turn, SMBs can now tap into many of the security features such as on-device encryption and management controls that made the BlackBerry smartphone so popular with the enterprise.
BES Express will be available starting in March. More information can be found on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express site.