Several months ago RIM announced the general availability of BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365 – a new service for business and government organizations that extends Microsoft Exchange Online to BlackBerry smartphones, while allowing customers to manage their BlackBerry deployments in the cloud. The service is available at no additional charge to current medium-sized or enterprise subscribers of the Office 365 suite or standalone Exchange Online and works with BlackBerry smartphones on business or consumer data plans.
"RIM's llaunch of BlackBerry Business Cloud Services for Microsoft Office 365 has proven to be of significant value. This new cloud-based option allows customers to cost-effectively support mobility across their organizations and easily manage and secure their BlackBerry deployments," said Alan Panezic, Vice President, Enterprise Product Management and Marketing at Research In Motion. "We will continue to build upon the end-to-end BlackBerry solution for our business and government customers with both on-premise and cloud-based solutions, a range of technical support options to suit any size organization, and a growing ecosystem of apps and services for BlackBerry users."
BlackBerry Business Cloud Services offers advanced administration and flexible smartphone self-service features to support an organization’s BlackBerry deployment in the cloud. Key features include:
- Wireless synchronization with Microsoft Exchange Online email, calendar and organizer data from a BlackBerry smartphone
- BlackBerry Balance technology, which presents a unified view of work and personal content on a BlackBerry smartphone while keeping the content separate and secure
- An intuitive web-based console for IT administrators to provision, manage and secure BlackBerry smartphones from anywhere
- Online access to employee self-service smartphone security functions, allowing users to easily reset a device password or remotely lock or wipe a device in the event of loss or theft
Managed service providers, systems integrators, carriers, resellers and other partners can also use the cloud service to manage BlackBerry deployments on behalf of their customers. The cloud features are the first in a set of planned cloud services that will be expanded over time to include additional enterprise features. Currently the platform is hosted with the overall RIM BES infrastructure, but RIM will be extending it over time to function as a pure cloud service outside of its own infrastructure for those businesses that prefer it.
The service is free to Microsoft Office 365 users. There is currently no other means to access the services. Microsoft essentially serves as the sales lead. Since its launch, the service has gained 70,000 users. The service is available whether a user is on a corporate or personal data plan.
Once a person signs up for Office 365, when he or she makes a mobile selection the user has a choice to use either Microsoft's ActiveSync or BlackBerry's Cloud Services. Once a user opts for the BlackBerry service, the user is transferred over to RIM for account setup and provisioning. No IT services from the user's business need to be involved in setup or provisioning. Office 365 provides the necessary credentials to quickly allow a user to add the BlackBerry cloud services and to tie everything together for the user. POP and IMAP email support is also provided, and is delivered through a single unified in-box and calendar.
Currently Office 365 is core to the cloud service. Office 365 users gain access to a subset of the core BES services. Basic support is free and users have access to a Web-based admin portal. Users gain access to the same set of policy management services that are provided through BES Express. Perhaps more importantly for individual users, they also gain access to BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry Balance. Blackberry Balance allows users to keep their corporate and personal data totally separated, meaning that should a business need to wipe data from a device it will only affect the corporate data, while preserving the user's personal information, data and applications.
As BlackBerry World 2012 sessions made clear, there is a fairly strong sense of recapturing the enterprise as a priority. The evolution of the current basic set of cloud services to a robust and true cloud-based platform is in the works and we anticipate that a next generation will be rolled out as the new BlackBerry 10 mobile computing platform itself hits the market later in 2012.