Management tools keep watch on BlackBerry

Zenprise will release this week a new version of its BlackBerry e-mail management software, with changes that give network administrators an end-to-end view of their mobile e-mail chain on a user-by-user basis.

Zenprise for BlackBerry 3.1 is an updated software module that runs with the Zenprise Enterprise Management Server. The new release includes a user dashboard, which is a set of graphical screens to show the overall health of mobile e-mail services for individual users. Some new diagnostic tools make it easier for administrators to make sure the Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry device is active and receiving messages.

The changes are part of the vendor’s effort to expose still more the components of the BlackBerry mobile e-mail system, so administrators can quickly know about problems, and diagnose and solve them.

The main Zenprise application, updated in April, relies on sophisticated algorithms to collect a range of information from Exchange’s messaging environment, including global catalogs, domain controllers, DNS servers and Active Directory, to uncover problems and then identify their underlying causes. The software then specifies a resolution, based on the customer’s e-mail environment.

The BlackBerry module, released in February, examines the BlackBerry environment for problems. It creates visual maps of usage trends and service performance; runs a predictive analysis that looks for impending service troubles; and calls on one database to generate step-by-step actions to fix problems; and on an expert database loaded with management advice from BlackBerry experts, including knowledge bases of documents and best practices from Microsoft and RIM.

For a company such as Grant Thornton, a Chicago-based accounting firm, that insight is critical, says Michael Ruman, the company’s IT messaging manger. Currently, some 600 BlackBerry devices are in use. Overall, the Exchange Server 2003 system handles 700,000 e-mails daily. “E-mail is mission critical for us,” Ruman says. “It’s our top application, next to the time-and-billing system.” “[Zenprise has] greatly enhanced our ability to see any issue that may be out there,” he says. Using Zenprise, his team now can monitor all four U.S. BlackBerry Enterprise Servers, and pick up, analyze and fix problems before they affect users.

Where the previous version focused on the BlackBerry and Exchange servers, the new version gives administrators and help-desk staff a more user-centered perspective, according to Ahmed Datoo, director of product management for Zenprise, in Fremont, Calif.

The new user dashboard-interface uses color-coded icons to show problems with various parts of the mobile e-mail infrastructure, or with specific users, along with a set of real-time performance graphs that show how long it takes to connect between the BlackBerry and Exchange Servers, or the number of pending messages to a handheld.

An administrator can click on a user name, or search on a name or e-mail address, to access a profile of the user, including his unique BlackBerry identifier, and a color-coded list of performance measures, such as service availability, message latency and pending-message queue. Clicking on any red-flagged icon brings up more details.

Also new with this release is more-detailed asset tracking. The software now queries all BlackBerry devices, and can sort them by product name and model, along with a list of features.

For Grant Thornton’s Ruman, who’s been beta testing the new version for about three weeks, it’s a revelation. He can now see and understand all the inter-relationships in sending and receiving mobile e-mail for the company’s accounting partners, including the BlackBerry device itself.

One user called the help desk, complaining he’d not received mobile e-mails for the past day. Using the new software module, administrators called up his history and activity during that period, checked the server elements and the carrier connection, which all checked out. Then they tried to ping the device (one of the new tools in the 3.1 version) and got no response. “It turned out this person had changed his carrier [cellular] plan the day before, and the configuration for the device had not been reset correctly,” says Ruman. The administrator called the carrier, which confirmed and corrected the misconfiguration.

Also part of the new release is what Zenprise calls the VIP Dashboard, which is designed to monitor a subset of high-priority BlackBerry users. Ruman hasn’t used that. “I have 450 [accounting] partners: they’re all VIPs,” he says.

Another company tackling BlackBerry management in the enterprise is Boxtone, in Columbia, Md., which released in May a new version of its BoxTone for BlackBerry management software, with a battery of new features.

Earlier this month, Azaleos unveiled a managed service, based on a hardware appliance, dubbed OneServer with MobileXchange, which is installed behind the corporate firewall. The appliance includes an appliance version of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Microsoft Exchange. Corporate administrators can access a range of real-time information about BlackBerry performance.

Zenprise for BlackBerry 3.1 is available now, starting at US$35 per user and dropping as the number of users goes up.

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