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10/12/2011
01:49 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom

A prolonged outage, just as the new iPhone 4S arrives--the timing could not be worse for RIM's leaders.

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Saying that Research In Motion is in trouble is an understatement, but as the BlackBerry service enters its third day of troublesome outages around the world--now including North America--it's difficult to see an upside.

That giant sucking sound coming from the Great White North? A colossal purging of every ounce of goodwill RIM has left.

As RIM buried its head in the sand during the past year, pretending that everything was just fine, it seemed to insist that the only thing that needed to change were the industry analysts, the media, and customers, presumably by spontaneously mistaking halcyon days for the future of mobility.

[ Want to make your Android phone or tablet into a smarter team player? See 10 Great Android Apps For Collaboration. ]

Yet there was one piece of good news: Enterprise IT, despite the stampede of end-users flooding the help desk with Android and iPhone requests, was reluctant to completely ditch BlackBerry as the primary enterprise mobile device.

The bad news: One of the pillars behind that choice was the BlackBerry service--the machine-like operation that, in tandem with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, provided centralized control of every device (down to the minute detail) and every message.

In fact, RIM could have made a good case to sell, spin off, or subjugate its device and mobile OS business and become the ultimate cloud-based provider of secure, managed mobile services. Apple, Google, Microsoft and a host of phone manufacturers would have been so thrilled to see RIM depart the mobile device business, that they might have bent over backwards to give RIM deep access to device management APIs. Carriers would have jumped at the chance to re-sell a RIM cloud offering.

To make matters worse, The Wall Street Journal openly speculated that as carriers begin offering service rebates to customers, those carriers may look to RIM for the same.

As InformationWeek's Eric Zeman wrote yesterday: "The issue is under investigation and appears to stem from a UK-based hub that RIM operates. The network operations center (NOC) in question controls traffic for the affected countries."

That failure seems to have caused a pile-up of messages, and that pile-up may be causing even more problems. RIM has yet to respond to direct requests for more information (InformationWeek sent its requests early Wednesday morning), but the company is posting updates on its web site--the latest simply acknowledging and apologizing for North American service delays, and pledging to resolve the issue quickly.

Let's review: RIM posts a 15 percent drop in second quarter revenue, following unmet expectations on BlackBerry Playbook and BlackBerry phone sales; investors continue to call for a restructuring, and the removal of co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis (aka Fric and Frac).

In other words investors are unhappy, customers are unhappy, the tablet is suspect, and the phones have been uninspiring (save for the latest Bold and Torch refresh, which might be better termed "improvements" rather than inspiration.) Now the service, thought to be rock solid, is down.

As InformationWeek's Eric Zeman writes today: "The timing could not be worse for RIM. This week, Apple is released iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S, both of which can use its new BBM-like iMessage service. iMessage lets iOS 5 users avoid text messaging fees by using Apple's push systems. Additionally, Google and Samsung are expected to debut the newest version of Android in the coming weeks."

Even the sports personality Jim Rome tweeted this morning: "The week a new iPhone drops?! Slick, BB."

Here's the scariest part: mobile device management--another pillar in RIM's historical success--is one of the hottest mobile topics today, especially inside the enterprise. The options are dizzying.

BYTE's Serdar Yegulalp wrote on Tuesday about AT&T's new Toggle, a service that lets Android users toggle between personal and work mode. InformationWeek's Tom Claburn wrote about BizzTrust for Android, a project that partitions an Android device for the same basic purpose. InformationWeek's Mike Davis, an expert on mobile device management and security, proposed that most of this technology is moving to the cloud now.

Next week RIM holds its U.S. developer conference in San Francisco, where its co-CEOs will take the stage; Jim Balsillie is also slated to appear at Web 2.0 Summit right around the corner. Here's to a change of tone from the recalcitrance of the past year, a humble pledge to re-think everything, a new plan. It may still be too late.

Next year at this time, Fric and Frac may be chanting the immortal words spoken by Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront: "I coulda been a contender."

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MMZ000
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MMZ000,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2011 | 1:36:22 AM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
RIM is low efficient company
ThePrisoner6
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ThePrisoner6,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/18/2011 | 5:18:04 PM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
Yes, it would appear that RIM's regional data centers only service specific regions, rather than acting as "steam valves" for other regions, duplicating services in the event of fail-over. RIM has also been reluctant to provide full disclosure on the event, leaving many to speculate.
ANON1237925156805
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ANON1237925156805,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2011 | 4:28:15 PM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
I don't think that the Apple and RIM situations are comparable. The iOS upgrade is voluntary. Users who did nothing had no outage. Bricking the phone was not a common occurrence either. In fact 99% of installations went through without incident. The fact is that every major OS upgrade from the mainframe through mobile devices uncovers minor flaws that no amount of testing can detect. There is no known way to simulate millions of random users in a lab. So the question is what does the vendor do about it? Apple hasn't always gotten an A but it usually steps up to the plate for a solid B in the end.

Were iPhones the primary tool of a major enterprise I'm sure that that enterprise would mandate waiting for testing and shakeout, even if just for a week or two-as individual users should do in general with any new OS for desktop or mobile device unless it comes pre-installed on a purchased device. As individuals we often don't follow that wise policy because we gotta have the newest and best right away. That's a risk that we willingly asume and we sometimes pay a price for it.

In contrast Blackberry owners went to bed with email and internet access and work up with neither without having changed a thing. That is unacceptable and it behooved RIM to be ahead of the curve in their communications with carriers and the public even if they did not have answers yet. As it is the fumbling nature of their public response makes it even more clear that nobody is minding the store. Fritz, you nailed it, sadly.
jalesch53501
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jalesch53501,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/17/2011 | 1:46:58 PM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
Yes, but the perception that a single point of failure exists in any combined product/service offering, (when compared to a distributed service model) and the critical nature of the service shows a stunning lack of understanding of the market.
FritzNelson
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FritzNelson,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/14/2011 | 5:25:39 AM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
I think nothing could get worse for RIM right now, and therefore I think the best thing they can do is tell the complete truth down to the detail, and then show us (again, down to the detail, what they are doing about it and why it's going to work. And then get on with it. (Oh, and maybe if they can stay up for 6 months, provide an update at that point -- remind us that they've stayed up for that long.)
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
10/13/2011 | 8:18:12 PM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
I'll betcha the RIM folks are breathing a huge sigh of relief that Apple is having a bad time with the iOS upgrade. At least the server outage won't brick your phone...

No company is immune to mistakes, and I don't think this necessarily leads to RIM imploding. That's not to say I'm completely sanguine about their long (or even medium) term prospects, but I think it will be a while before they tank completely.
ThePrisoner6
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ThePrisoner6,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2011 | 3:25:12 PM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
In light of the many headaches reported with the iOS launch yesterday, it seems that no network or server farm, despite the best planning or forethought, is without limitations.
Chris Spera
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Chris Spera,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2011 | 2:20:36 PM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
Ouch! You certainly tell it like it is, Fritz. This is an awesome article. However, RIM knows about it single point of failure architecture. This is not the first time BB outages have made the news, or caused global problems. You would have thought that based on outages in 2007, when multiple carriers were hit with prolonged outages that required businesses to wait and WAIT until RIM got things sorted out that the problem would have been resolved.

Partner or not, if I were CIO/CTO of an organization and backed a communications architecture that relied on another organizations computers to remain operational, I'd expect to be fired after something like this. This is completely out of my control, and I am at RIM's mercy while my sales force is without the means to communicate with the home office.

This may have worked and been fine from 1990 to 2009 or so, but not any longer...not when things like Exchange ActiveSync and its push services give you [nearly] the same functionality and mobile device management as BIS/BES, without the additional costs and licensing.

The fact that this happened during the week that the iPhone 4S launches only shines additional lime light on each of this incidents, RIM's device OS antiquities, its tablet failure, etc. If this doesn't spell the real beginning of the end for them, I'm not certain what will.
Jnil67
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Jnil67,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/13/2011 | 10:39:57 AM
re: BlackBerry Service Outage Spells RIM Doom
I find it amusing that some analysts claim that BlackBerry may benefit from this so long as they provide some kind of meaningful gesture of goodwill: http://www.investoo.co.uk/blac... it would have to be absolutely brilliant to counter this outage.
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