BlackBerry hosted server feeds SMB mobile email hunger

BlackBerry maker RIM announced a hosted mobile email server, but some experts are wondering whether it makes sense to have hosted mobile email with an on-site email server.

With its recent announcement offering BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in a hosted environment, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) planted its feet in the often neglected SMB space, an area that has been reluctant to adopt the powerhouse's mobile email.

Although a hosted mobile email service such as Hosted BES may be the answer for many companies, especially SMBs, some experts are questioning why an SMB would want a hosted mobile solution and an in-house mobile email server.

Daniel Taylor, managing director of the Mobile Enterprise Alliance (MEA) and a self-proclaimed "huge fan" of managed services, said there are dozens of hosted solutions for mobile email like Notes and Exchange that support different forms of mobile email, such as ActiveSync, Good Mobile Messaging and BES.

"For small to medium-sized businesses the hosted solutions for email are actually better than what an IT department can provide internally," Taylor said.

He added, however, that Hosted BES may not be the best choice for a company that has its own internal email server.

"The only thing that doesn't make sense here is why an SMB would choose RIM for Hosted BES while keeping Exchange in-house," he said. "Why would an IT department choose hosting for mobile email and not for the whole kit and caboodle?"

If hosting makes sense for mobile email, then -- according to Taylor -- it makes sense for the email platform as well.

"And if my choice were a service that hosted everything and gave me a choice of BlackBerry, Palm, Symbian and Windows Mobile versus one that hosted only the mobile email and tied me to one device," Taylor said, "I'd take my business to one company and give my users the freedom to choose best-of-breed devices as they come on the market."

RIM director of product marketing David Wilmering said Hosted BES is designed to offer mobility-hungry SMBs the same BES functionality they would have if the server were internal. The software lets carriers and service providers offer all managed services of BES to companies that may not have the IT resources to handle the installation, management and administration of a new server. Hosted BES has the same security, reliability, policy controls, compliance and mobile application platform as in-house BES, just in a hosted environment, Wilmering said.

According to 2002 U.S. Census data, SMBs make up 50% of the total number of mobile employees in the nation. Wilmering said Hosted BES allows companies a single management point and wireless activation with no need to cradle devices.

Although a hosted email server is not a necessity, Hosted BES can be offered by a carrier or service provider in conjunction with hosted email, Wilmering said. Hosted BES also mobilizes and supports most major on-site email environments, including Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise. A hosted environment also offers support of mobile applications for BlackBerrys through BlackBerry Mobile Data System and can support all BlackBerry and BlackBerry Connect devices.

Stephen Drake, program director for IDC's Mobile Software service, said in a statement that Hosted BES will offer mobile solutions to a somewhat neglected segment -- SMBs.

"Many small and medium-sized businesses utilize outsourced email solutions, and employees of this group tend to also be among the most mobile in the marketplace," Drake said. "Expanding their hosted email and applications services with a wireless offering to their existing business customers is a natural extension for many hosters to quickly realize increased revenue, decreased customer acquisition costs, and improved customer retention. For wireless carriers, offering hosted services builds on existing data network and business offerings, leading to increased data usage on their networks and new expanded target market segments."

Current Analysis' Kathryn Weldon agreed with MEA's Taylor, however, that a hosted mobile email service in an internal email environment sounds kind of odd.

"It does seem as if a company [that] can run an Exchange server should be able to also run BES," she said. "On the other hand, it could be a pain to add that headache to an already stretched IT staff at a small company."

Avi Greengart, principal analyst of mobile devices with Current Analysis, agreed that for some companies a hosted mobile email in an internal email environment could ease the IT burden.

"It could be that the company is outsourcing all new services but isn't ripping out anything that already works," Greengart said. "It could be that BES is perceived as being complicated. Or it could be that the SMB simply ran out of space in its server/telecom closet."

Previous hosted server options, such as those from Sprint and Cingular that worked with SEVEN's mobile email, never gained much traction, according to Weldon. And a carrier-hosted server option from Intellisync is not yet catching on.

Still, Weldon sees Hosted BES as positive because it helps RIM add SMBs to its customer list, despite the possibility that it will have limited marketing potential.

RIM may have more success than competitors in the hosted mobile email space because the BES and BlackBerry combination "is the most popular and arguably the best mobile email solution on the market," Greengart said.

And with the entire IT world moving to Software as a Service, he is left with one question: "What took [RIM] so long?"

Greengart added that even if Hosted BES doesn't achieve strong adoption numbers, RIM is making strides.

"The company needs to offer as many SMB-friendly roads to BlackBerry as it can," he said.

This article originally appeared on SearchMobileComputing.com.

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