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RIM Preps BlackBerry Update for Cash-Strapped IT

Research in Motion (RIM) is moving to retain its already dominant hold on the enterprise mobility market, readying a new version of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server that promises to reduce IT costs and labor.

RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) plans the new BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 (BES) to ship during second quarter with a host of new management capabilities. Those include over-the-air device activation, downtime scheduling and simpler role administration, according to a presentation detailing the launch. RIM spokespeople were not available to comment further on the release by press time.

RIM's news comes at a time when the BlackBerry maker is feeling the effects of slowing IT spending. The company said yesterday that it's business customers are holding off on upgrades -- a fact that it expects to negatively impact its next quarterly results.

But as corporate layoffs and budget slashing -- especially within RIM's large customer base of financial companies -- is impacting tech spending, enterprises are looking for more cost-efficient tools and technologies.

That's where RIM is expecting to shine with its Enterprise Server upgrade, which will replace the three-year old BES 4.16. The update arrives a year after the vendor promised to deliver on better functionality and document controls.

In particular, BES 5.0 aims to cut down on the time and effort required by IT to manage BlackBerry servers and clients.

Case in point: BES 5.0's new over-the-air update feature. Deploying software upgrades over the air eliminates users having to plug their devices into their desktops before receiving critical software patches -- and enables IT to monitor activation and handle troubleshooting issues in real time.

The new server's dashboard also offers more centralized control over individual servers and software configurations, along with user and group policy control. That makes administration quicker and more efficient: For instance, if a user belongs to multiple groups, admins no longer have to manually set separate attributes for each.

Security also gets more locked-down in the upcoming release. The new version expands on security in BES 4.16 with more granular wireless policies and management capabilities. IT can modify security levels wirelessly, which eliminates asking users to connect devices using a desktop.

Network oversight features have been enhanced as well, with improvements like automatic failover. For example, if a server fails, the system can direct clients of that failed system to a failover server. IT has to manually handle that same task in the current version. IT can set alerts for system failures when a system's status falls below a customizable threshold.

The BES upgrade process is easier due to another Web-based tool, which eliminates adding the software to desktops of IT administrators. The 5.0 server can accommodate up to about 100,000 BlackBerry devices. No pricing information was available from RIM as of press time.

Client and role updates

Other ways BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 aims to simplify IT tasks is by allowing for scheduled upgrades and application maintenance work. Admins also can identify and monitor downtime and server outages through the new system. Additionally, a new migration tool enables admins to move accounts from one domain to another without downtime.

IT can customize roles and permissions with accounts, with increased control and security. For example, an enterprise could set a policy that restricts access to its top executives' accounts to only a subset of the IT staff.

Through the server upgrade, BlackBerry device users will gain the ability to create, delete, move and revise names of their e-mail folders. They'll also be able to forward calendar appointments and view attachments to meeting requests or calendar entries.

BES 5.0 also improves user contact synchronization and provides users with direct access to network drives.

Multimedia also sees an improvement in the release: Mobile workers also can now access Windows Media Audio files, which expands the number of formats playable on the BlackBerry. Currently, the device supports MP3 and WAV files.

In attention its making the pitch for a new version of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, RIM has also made its efforts in the consumer sector a key portion of its growth plans in recent years.

Last year, the company debuted several new consumer devices, like the BlackBerry Storm and Curve. Those efforts ultimately have won the company a sizable chunk of business from the non-enterprise segment. At the end of the year, consumers now represent 45 percent of its subscriber base, according to RIM.

Additionally, the BlackBerry maker is looking to expand its traction in the government sector, which requires higher-grade security technologies. Earlier this week, RIM expanded its security portfolio by sealing its $106.5 million acquisition of Certicom. Certicom's cryptography technology has already found fans among government buyers, like the National Security Agency.