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RIM Adds iPhone, Android Support

BlackBerry Balance also lets IT managers put enterprise data and personal data into separate silos on a single handset.

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RIM at BlackBerry World on Monday made some significant announcements affecting its BlackBerry Enterprise Server product. Moving forward, BES and BESX will be able to control the security and IT policy parameters of iOS and Android devices. This represents a huge strategic shift for RIM, which has generally only provided support for its own BlackBerry smartphones. The new-found powers come through RIM's planned acquisition of ubitexx, also announced on Monday.

The base set of tools will be combined into a single Web console for IT, from which it can manage BlackBerry, iOS, and Android devices together. IT will be able to control devices over-the-air, including activating devices, distributing software and applications, locking or wiping devices, enforcing and resetting device passwords, setting IT policies, and managing optional mobile applications for end users.

RIM noted that select features will remain exclusively available to BlackBerries, however. Some of them include RIM’s push technology, network and data usage efficiency, behind-the-firewall access to enterprise applications and systems, and many of the BES' 550 IT policies.

Even though some features remain exclusive to BlackBerries, having basic control over the security features of iOS and Android from BES means that businesses don't have to restrict smartphone use to just the BlackBerry platform. Corporations that are already heavily invested in RIM's BlackBerry servers and services can now add support to the iPhone and Android devices with their existing infrastructure. In other words, IT can keep the corner office happy, without breaking the bank.

"The multi-platform BlackBerry Enterprise Solution is designed to address a growing market and respond to requests from enterprise customers who want a secure multi-platform device management solution from a company that already delivers the gold standard for enterprise mobility," said Peter Devenyi, vice president of the communications platform group at Research In Motion, in a statement. "We recognize the opportunity to continue leading in the enterprise market by providing customers with a common platform to help simplify the management of a variety of mobile devices."

It is an interesting move for RIM to make, as it amounts to an admission that RIM is no longer the only enterprise-grade smartphone supplier that businesses are interested in. RIM is giving its customers the opportunity (excuse?) to skip buying BlackBerrys and buy iPhones and/or Android smartphones instead.

In addition to the multi-platform support tools, RIM also introduced a better way for IT to manage security on devices that are used for both professional and personal reasons.

Many people carry only one smartphone that serves as their working device and their personal phone. One problem with this scenario is that it can lead to security and/or data leaks when users transfer enterprise data to their personal accounts/services. With BlackBerry Balance, that will no longer be possible.

BlackBerry Balance silos enterprise data separately from personal data on the handset and doesn't allow the two to interact. By keeping them separate, IT can control the enterprise information on the handset while leaving users' personal data alone. The data segregation is transparent to end users, who get the same BlackBerry experience they are used to. It is up to IT to set the policies that manage what users can and can't do between work and personal data.

For example, BlackBerry Balance will prevent users from accessing business data or files created by business applications from their personal applications. Users who attempt to circumvent IT policies such as this will receive warnings. When an employee leaves an organization, IT can be secure in knowing that it can wipe all the enterprise data from that employee's BlackBerry without having any effect on the user's personal data. Of course, the software can also be used to manage lost or stolen handsets, including device wipe, remote lock, and wipe personal data if a BlackBerry is lost.

"BlackBerry Balance is a win-win for employers and employees," said Jim Tobin, senior vice president, software and services at Research In Motion in a statement. "It's a secure and cost-effective way for companies to keep employees connected and productive, while also allowing the flexibility for employees to carry a single phone."

BlackBerry Balance will be built into BlackBerry OS 7, but will also be available to devices running BlackBerry OS 6. Multi-platform support in the BlackBerry Enterprise Server will become available later this year.

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