RIM’s BlackBerry outage draws Gartner criticism

Research In Motion outage of its BlackBerry service for several hours on Monday in Canada and the U.S. has one consulting company advising clients not to rely solely on the popular smart phones for critical e-mail messages.

Late Tuesday, RIM said the outage was caused by a problem with an internal data routing system in the BlackBerry service infrastructure that had recently been upgraded. That upgrade was part of an ongoing expansion of the network, and this type of change had been done previously with no problems, it said.

Late Monday it apologized for any inconvenience caused by the incident, which left customers throughout North America without current e-mail for about three hours starting around 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

It was the second major outage in less than a year for the popular mobile data service, on which about 12 million subscribers depended at the beginning of last December. The previous problem, which occurred last April, was caused by a minor software upgrade that went awry, followed by a failed switchover to a backup system, according to RIM. The company said soon afterward that it had identified “certain aspects of its testing, monitoring and recovery processes that will be enhanced” as a result of the failure.

BlackBerry e-mail traverses a complex infrastructure involving mobile operator networks, RIM’s network operations center and BlackBerry Enterprise Servers within companies that use the service. It pushes messages from enterprise e-mail systems, including Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes, out to the popular BlackBerry devices.

The system is getting yet more complicated as RIM adds third-party services to appeal to consumers, said Albert Lin, an analyst at investment bank Sooner Cap. As the company tries to keep up with rapid growth in its subscribers — last year’s fiscal third quarter saw a net gain of 1.65 million — these types of glitches are to be expected, Lin said.

“It’s hard to really expect any major service provider to be 100 percent reliable,” Lin said. Although enterprises now have more push e-mail alternatives than they did when the BlackBerry debuted in 1999, those competitors, such as Visto and Motorola’s Good Technology system, aren’t significantly more dependable, he said.

“When it comes to reliable push e-mail … it’s still hard to find a solution that works better than BlackBerry,” Lin said.

Enterprises that really need e-mail responses in less than eight hours to run their businesses should have a backup for the BlackBerry, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said Tuesday, in the wake of a crash that lasted about three hours on Monday. They should also set up an independent system to notify them whether an important contact has received or replied to an e-mail message, Dulaney said.

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