Hot skills: Blackberry Enterprise Server skills

Skills advice for IT professionals

What is it?

Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) is the middleware for the Blackberry wireless platform. It connects to messaging and collaboration software on enterprise networks to synchronise e-mail and data between desktop and mobile software.

There are dedicated versions for the leading collaboration suites, which provide access to Lotus and Exchange calendaring, contacts and e-mail as well as .net and Lotus Domino web services applications. BES, in conjunction with the Blackberry Mobile Data System, also provides wireless access to customer relationship management and other applications.

Employers looking for Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange and Novell's Groupwise skills are increasingly likely to ask for BES experience.

Blackberry use is growing rapidly, with more than nine million subscribers. This is predicted to reach 14 million next year, and more than 24 million by 2009. Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) has also announced that it is to begin licensing applications to run on Windows Mobile devices, with potential expansion to other platforms, including Symbian.

A rare overnight outage in North America early this year revealed the extent to which some businesses and users are dependent on their Blackberries Gartner said the incident could "change perceptions", and "recast mobile messaging as highly critical to organisations and individuals, particularly those that rely on constant connectivity."

Some businesses have their own BES installations, and others use third-party hosted services.

BES either plugs into proprietary technologies such as Exchange, Visual Studio and Java ME, or makes use of open standards and protocols. This enables businesses to build on existing investments.

Where did it originate?

Canada-based RIM launched the Blackberry in 1999, initially as a way of accessing e-mail via mobile phone networks. RIM says that the Blackberry is now mainly used for internet access, customer data access and personal information management.

What's it for?

BES includes its own development, deployment and administration tools, and encryption and firewall-based security. The BES Resource Kit is a collection of free downloadable tools for administrators, including utilities for managing users, analysing traffic, and updating policies.

What makes it special?

Push technology means that all new messages, calendar changes and customer contact details are relayed straight to the Blackberry, so the user always has access to the latest messages and data.

How difficult is it to master?

Administrators can take three one-day courses (costing £529 each), taking them from "level one" to advanced skills, covering the management interface, troubleshooting and day-to-day management.

For developers with existing Java or Microsoft skills, the way in is through the Blackberry Java Development Environment and Blackberry Plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio.

What's coming up?

The Blackberry 8820, the first Blackberry handset with built in Wi-Fi connectivity can hop between cellular networks and voice over IP on wireless networks.

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