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What the RIM Server Failure Teaches Us

October 11, 2011 Chris Fairey

Safe

Monday's complete failure of Research in Motion's (RIMs) UK BlackBerry Internet Service servers has highlighted just how reliant we have become on services offered by third parties.

Because of the failure of a group of servers in a UK datacentre, all of RIMs customers across the whole EMEA region were unable to access any of their e-mail or do anything besides make phone calls and send text messages. This is worrying.

Why is it Worrying?

It's worrying because, the severe disruption that was caused to both private individuals and, more importantly, organisations, could have been, although wasn't, caused by a group of people intent on disrupting global business.

Consider the fact that the majority of BlackBerry users are employees in large corporations in all sectors, including banking/finance. Just imagine what damage can be caused if you prevent a stock market trader from receiving their e-mails on their BlackBerry, right before a major stock market event. The results would be catastrophic.

Are We in Cloud Cuckoo Land?

Moving infrastructure services away from your organisation and into the cloud does carry several benefits:

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  • Improved accessibility
  • Lower administrative costs
  • Infinite Expansion

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However, it also leaves you at the mercy of your chosen service provider, and their abilities to keep the services you use running, and the more you use them, the greater the impact when they aren't available.

Everyone who uses cloud services, myself included, accepts that for the increased flexibility and anywhere access afforded, we sacrifice control.

We have no idea where our data is being stored, the servers it has to travel through to get there or, how well it is protected. We trust the service provider to have made the best decisions regarding server placement and security measures, so that our data is safe.

But I Run a BlackBerry Enterprise Server!

Even this wouldn't have stopped your employees from being unable to access their e-mails, as their connections to your BES still have to go through RIMs servers before they get to you, thus, a failure of a server in the UK still affects your organisation, even though you're hosting your e-mail in-house.

RIM makes your connections to BES work this way to ease the administrative burden of allowing devices on different mobile networks to access your servers. Your BES establishes a connection to RIM and it then links to all devices registered on your server, passing data backwards and forwards for you. This is good, until it stops working.

Once it stops working, even though your e-mail, and the configuration of your employees devices are within your control, on servers you own and know the physical locations of, your employees can't access them as their connection is provided through a third party.

What Can I Do About It?

If you still want to use a BlackBerry, not much. If not, migrating to another platform such as the iPhone, Android (without using Google Apps), or Windows Phone 7 will give you the ability to connect your employees phones to your Exchange server directly via ActiveSync, while, in the case of both the iPhone and Windows Phone 7, affording you a degree of device control in the process.

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