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RIM Plans Wireless Appliance For SMB Market

The BlackBerry Appliance is a preconfigured server that serves as a central link between wireless networks, applications, and devices, enabling companies without an IT staff to provide secure access to wireless applications.

Research in Motion (RIM) is set to launch an economical hardware and software solution that small and midsize businesses can use to simplify the process of mobilizing email and other Blackberry applications, CRN has learned.

The Blackberry Appliance is a preconfigured server that serves as a central link between wireless networks, applications and devices, enabling companies without an IT staff to provide secure access to wireless applications. The offering consists of a preconfigured rack-mounted server with Blackberry Enterprise Server software pre-installed, as well as 20 client access licenses, according to an internal RIM document viewed by CRN.

The solution integrates with Microsoft Exchange 2003 and is being sold on a 24-month purchase plan at $207 a month, which includes technical support and a two-year hardware warranty. The Blackberry Appliance will belong to the customer at the end of the two-year period, said a source who requested anonymity to protect his company's relationship with RIM.

RIM, Waterloo, Ontario, also is offering an exchange program, in which the customer can have a new appliance sent out immediately in the event of a hardware failure, and six months of RIM's Tx0 support package, which includes email support and 8x5 telephone support for one caller, according to the document.

RIM would neither confirm nor deny details of the Blackberry Appliance.

The Blackberry Appliance will gain widespread adoption in the SMB market because of the complexity and cost associated with setting up a Blackberry Enterprise Server, predicted Surya Jayaweera, CEO of Wolfetech Development, a BlackBerry solution provider in Claremont, Calif.

Meanwhile, a security flaw revealed Tuesday by a group of German hackers called Phenoelit could open up BlackBerry Enterprise Server to denial-of-service attacks, but RIM said it has already developed fixes for the vulnerability.

"A lot of smaller companies would like to have access to secure push email, but it has to be easy for them to deploy," Jayaweera said.

RIM's push into the SMB market depends too much on Microsoft Exchange, said Alan Gould, president and CEO at Westlake Software, a Blackberry integrator in Calabasas, Calif. He said he believes that once Microsoft has made its handheld devices completely interactive with back office applications, RIM will be in deep trouble.

"All Microsoft has to do is make fundamental changes in the way Exchange works and every Blackberry server in use will be broken," Gould said. "Microsoft doesn't have any reason to make Exchange a continued open platform, and why should they?"

And Microsoft isn’t the only potential roadblock for RIM, which remains locked in a bitter legal battle over patents held by Arlington, Va.-based NTP governing various functions of the Blackberry. Although the U.S. Patent Office ruled against two of NTP's patents last week, RIM still faces the possibility of a court-ordered shutdown of its Blackberry service in North America, with a U.S. District Court judge scheduled to rule on the case sometime after Feb. 1.

RIM is also in the process of refocusing its partner program to identify which partners offer more value in strategic areas such as VoIP, according to a source who requested anonymity to protect his relationship with RIM.

RIM is looking for VARs to support the Blackberry 7270, unveiled at Interop New York last month, its first device to feature VoIP and WLAN support. It's likely RIM will target VARs with expertise in these areas that also understand the complexities of Blackberry Enterprise Server, the source said.

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