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8/15/2011
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RIM BlackBerry Management Center Woos SMBs

Cloud-based management system provides backup and restoration, remote locking and wiping, and find-my-phone features. Here's why it's sized right.

BlackBerry Management Center
(click image for larger view)
BlackBerry Management Center
Amid widespread concerns about the BlackBerry's decline among consumers, Research in Motion has launched a new cloud-based management system aimed at winning over small and midsize business (SMB) users. BlackBerry Management Center, introduced Monday, offers companies with up to 100 BlackBerry handsets the ability to manage consumer-grade accounts in a central interface with remote administration, backup, and security features.

BlackBerry Management Center supports handsets running BlackBerry OS 4.6 or later, and works with a variety of cloud-based or ISP-based email and calendar services, such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail. The opt-in service allows SMB IT administrators to sign up for a management account and invite users over the air. End users can grant or deny specific permissions for mail management and BlackBerry Protect services, ensuring that users retain control over their privacy.

With full control granted from the end user, SMB IT admins can configure and administrate cloud-based email and calendar accounts, wirelessly back up data from a device on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, and restore data to a handset.

The Management Center's BlackBerry Protect features allow an admin to remotely lock a device, as well as wipe the contents of the internal storage or any data stored on MicroSD in the event that the device is lost or stolen. It also includes phone-finding features to initiate a loud ring and display a message on the home screen to aid in recovering a lost handset. The service allows for multiple admins on one account.

"It's very distinct from [BlackBerry Enterprise Server], in that BES is an on-premises solution," Pete Deveyni, senior VP of email and management platforms at RIM, told InformationWeek. "This one is entirely cloud-based and entirely focused on cloud-based email solutions."

RIM sees BlackBerry Management Center as a big growth opportunity for the company, according to Deveyni, given that some 70% of SMB mobile users are not yet using smartphones. "And, of course, the lion's share of cloud email is still small-business user focused," Deveyni said.

BlackBerry Management Center is launching as an international solution, with 32 languages supported.

The service's cloud interface is simple enough that any tech-savvy manager should be able to work with it effectively, which ought to be a boon to small businesses with no dedicated IT staff. It could also prove valuable for resellers and IT consultants supporting SMBs.

"This solution helps small businesses address the most fundamental mobile security risk they face, which is a lost or stolen device," said Tim Doherty, research analyst for SMB mobility at IDC. "Small businesses typically are less equipped to handle employee-owned devices than enterprise businesses are."

According to Doherty, most companies with fewer than 50 workers--a massive segment of the marketplace--often have no full-time IT staff. "At this level, a lot of businesses don't want to run a dedicated server," Doherty said. For this reason, BlackBerry Management Center is an attractive offering for any company struggling to cope with an influx of employee-owned devices on consumer carrier plans. "Out of the box, with these features, for free, this is fairly novel," said Doherty.

From the management console, an admin can invite users to join the service. The user can then authorize BlackBerry Management Center to access his or her email account, calendar service, and administrative control over the handset itself. Each handset can include multiple email accounts, which the administrator can configure or troubleshoot from within the console itself. Configuring and initiating backups is easy and straightforward, as is restoring user data onto a new device. And when a user loses a phone, the admin can quickly force it to ring, and can wipe its storage easily to prevent company data from falling into the wrong hands.

Tim Doherty is optimistic about this SMB BlackBerry manager. "When you look at barriers to adoption for mobile solutions in small business, you look at price, deployment, and ease of use," Doherty said. "I think this covers all three."

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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