REVIEW: BES 5.0 a smart choice for smartphone management

Many factors enter in when an end user chooses between a BlackBerry, an iPhone or another device — there’s coolness, cost, cachet, ease of use, features, apps. But for IT execs deploying a fleet of mobile devices, it’s all about management.

We tested Research in Motion’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 and found that it’s an easy-to-use, Web-based tool that provides centralized administration, high availability and the ability to set rules and policies on a granular level.

More details on how we tested BES 5.0

There are two deployment options: an upgrade, or a new installation. We had BES v4.1.4.15 running already, so we used the new BES Transporter Tool to complete a seamless migration. We also did an out-of-the-box installation the same way a new enterprise customer would.

More in ComputerWorld Canada – 10 BlackBerry troubleshooting tips & tricks

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best), we give the BES Transporter Tool a 9. Our migration, with five users, took under 30 minutes.

BlackBerry Administration Service provides Web-based administration access, with easy navigation tools that allow administrators to perform all tasks from one centralized location.

With Administration Service, an admin can publish and push updates and applications to one user or groups of users. The administrator can also identify unauthorized applications and prevent users from downloading, using or updating prohibited programs or applications. When a BlackBerry device is activated, the new security policy supersedes any previously installed programs or policies.

The prior version of BES featured BlackBerry Manager, a thick-client, desktop-based application that limited the flexibility of IT administrators. The new Administration Service offers more flexibility, allowing administrators to monitor and control the smartphone network through the Internet Explorer Web browser.

With BES 5, administrators can tailor and customize roles, skills and permissions, creating different levels of access to the server for limited administrative roles, such as password reset, activate new user and edit security policies.

The console is streamlined; the administrator can not only customize by skill sets, but partition to different classes of users. Users can belong to multiple groups, and groups can belong to other groups. When a user is moved to another group, the user automatically inherits the settings of that group.

You can also schedule all administration tasks, policy updates and applications, during low-traffic time and not impact users. There are multiple levels of built-in security policies available, or you can customize a policy, to meet your needs. Though these features were available in the previous release, the applications are more centralized, well structured and intuitive, easier to administer, and can be found in one location.

BES 5 provides increased visibility into the network. We noted the improved color-coded monitoring alerts, and easily identified the server and user related issues and status. The administrator can view reports on issues affecting the performance of the BES v5.0 server, which ensures uninterrupted service to the users.

The Threshold Assistance Tool provides monitoring help, allowing IT to set acceptable threshold levels.

The high availability feature supplies fast recovery from unplanned downtime. With the 1-to1 high availability option, BES 5 provides an automated process tailored to your network or business needs. The administrator can force an upgrade or perform maintenance on either server, or this procedure can be an automatic scheduled event. Each administrator can define what network conditions would initiate failover, with little or no disruption to the end user. You can set preferences based on your network environment requirements.

During testing we found that when manually triggered the standby server takes over the load; with little to no user interruption. The automated failover is dependent on the individual preferences set, but the process performed in the same fashion whether automatic or manually triggered.

BlackBerry Device Software v5.0 is scheduled to be available in late 2009. We reviewed the smartphone features currently available on the Web Desktop. With the new e-mail folder management, we were able to browse, add, rename, delete and move folders. Through the Web Desktop users can now granularly filter and select which e-mails are to be delivered to their BlackBerry device. We were able to organize and flag e-mails that require follow-up with the use of flags, similar to Microsoft Outlook.

With its advanced Web-based features, upgrading to BES 5 could increase productivity for both the IT administrator and smartphone device end users.

Smithers is CEO of Miercom. With more than 20 years of testing experience, he has worked in testing, consulting and network planning as well as hands on implementations of converged networks. Rob can be reached at [email protected].

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