New smartphone controls may appeal to IT managers

RIM adds fail-over functions and simplifies admin tools in BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Research in Motion Ltd. is hoping that the latest version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server will help convince skeptical IT managers that smartphone technologies can meet rigid corporate standards for management and security.

Analysts and users said that if new fail-over functions and simplified administration tools in the upcoming Version 5.0 of the BlackBerry management software work as RIM promises, thousands more workers outside of executive suites could safely use the mobile devices.

Analysts have said in recent months that improvements in technology -- more powerful processors, faster networks, and devices that can support multiple networks -- and lower costs are gradually increasing the spread of mobile devices into corporate settings.

Nevertheless, they noted that many IT managers remain wary of allowing significant numbers of employees to use handhelds because of a perceived lack of security and management capabilities.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., estimated that up to 80% of large companies have more than 100 workers now using smartphones sanctioned by IT operations. Over the past two years, he added, the technology has started spreading from the executive suite to the corporate masses.

The new BlackBerry management tool set, code-named Argon, is slated to ship in the second quarter of this year. RIM officials declined to identify the companies that are now beta-testing the software and can best explain its new features.

Peter Walker, senior director of software product management at RIM, said that the built-in fail-over capability in Version 5.0 will allow IT administrators to connect multiple servers with one system that is kept ready in "live, warm" high-availability mode for activation in case the primary systems start running below predetermined performance levels.

Dulaney noted that current versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Server require that IT developers build custom add-ins to accomplish fail-over from one server to another.

Implementing the fail-over capability will require some users to install additional hardware to run the backup tool, Walker said. However, he also noted that the multiple computer systems could share a single database that would not need to be replicated.

John D. Halamka, CIO at Boston-based CareGroup Inc. and a Computerworld columnist, said he expects that the new RIM server fail-over capabilities will be "very helpful to my disaster recovery planning efforts."

CareGroup, which oversees several health care operations, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, supports more than 600 BlackBerry users, he said.

"BlackBerry is obviously a critical component to our overall communications infrastructure," added Tony Disalvatore, director of CareGroup's messaging server team. "Any outage would affect over 600 users."

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