RIM's Business Cloud Service Brings BlackBerrys to SMBs

Paul Mah
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RIM a couple of weeks ago announced the general availability of the BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365, which was in beta since late last year. A cloud-based service run and managed by RIM, the BlackBerry Business Cloud Service allows Office 365 customers to connect their BlackBerry smartphones to Exchange Online in a manner similar to how large businesses have been able to manage their BlackBerry devices by deploying RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). To sum it up, the BlackBerry Business Cloud Services is like a cloud-hosted version of BES for Office 365.


The service is free to customers of Office 365, though it must be noted that the service only works with the various enterprise plans such as the E1, E2, E3 and E4 plans. It is not available for the cheaper P1 plan that is geared specifically at small businesses. For more details on the difference between the various Office 365 plans, you may want to read my Quick SMB Primer for Microsoft's Office 365 that I wrote late last year.


From my perspective, as a long-time BlackBerry user, I've identified some of the top advantages of the BlackBerry Business Cloud Service below:


  • Works with the cheaper BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) data plans
  • Synchronize Address book, Tasks, Memo and Calendar with Exchange Online
  • Incoming email arrives instantly (No 10-minute polling time)
  • Ability to initiate a server-side search from a BlackBerry smartphone
  • Some ability to manage BlackBerry smartphones using IT policies


Of course, BlackBerry Business Cloud Service offers a more limited subset of features compared to a full-fledged BES deployment. For example, it is not possible to initiate an app installation over the air, and there is also no support for the BlackBerry Mobile Data System (MDS). In addition, users on a BIS data plan will not be able to activate their BlackBerry smartphones over the air, but must first be tethered to a PC.


On the plus side, the BlackBerry Business Cloud Service eliminates the need to pay the hefty software licensing fee for BES or the need for any capital and infrastructure investments on the backend. Moreover, many features useful to small and mid-sized business are offered, such as the ability to enforce a default IT policy that mandates a device password, disabling the use of external memory, or enforcement of device encryption. Activation of the service also proved to be a straightforward affair for me - it took less than 10 minutes - and RIM offers a dedicated, Web-based control panel for administrators.


One potential deal breaker is how the activation of the BlackBerry Business Cloud Service necessitates opening your organization's Exchange Server to RIM. This may or may not be acceptable to certain organizations. For SMBs where this is not a problem, though, I do consider the need to upgrade to an E Plan well worth the benefits.


You can access the official BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365 page for more information. Administrators who like jumping into the deep end can download the detailed feature and technical overview here (pdf), or view the comparison between the various options here (pdf).

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