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Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) vs. Exchange Push Mail (Activesync)

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In this Article we compare at a very high level, Blackberry and Activesync. While we say Blackberry, we really refer to the Server and not the handheld device. Similarly, while we say Activesync, we really mean Exchange Activesync and not the desktop version you might be more familiar with. These two are the more popular push technologies at the moment and it simply enables sending emails from the server out to the Mobile device.

Policy and Feature Factor ….

Blackberry
 
Blackberry offers many more features when compared with Activesync.  These main features are:

1.) Mobile Data service allows Blackberry users to access intranet sites and applications.
2.) IT policies to control features on Blackberry devices.
3.) Complete logging of PIN, SMS messages and Phone calls is available on blackberry server.
4.) Remote Wipe / lock / Unlock of device are supported. These are also supported on Active Sync.
5.) Synchronization of email, Calendar, notes, contacts and tasks is supported.
6.) Controlled surfing of the Internet is available with Blackberry. i.e internet access can be routed through corporate network with internal proxy server.

Activesync
 
1.) Remote Wipe / Lock / Unlock of device are supported.
2.) Synchronization of email, Calendar, notes, contacts and tasks is supported.
3.) You can see all old emails but blackberry there is a limitation.
4.) You can download larger attachments but on blackberries only about 5MB.
5.) Need at least Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 which introduces Exchange Activesync.


Cost factor…:

Blackberry
 
To implement blackberry solution you are required to have purchased or invest in:

1.) Blackberry server required at least mail server (Exchange, Lotus or Domino) in order to install BES.
2.) Blackberry Enterprise server software license
3.) Additional Blackberry Client Access Licenses
4.) Costly Blackberry device for the user (ie it must be a Blackberry device)
5.) Skilled technical staff to manage blackberry server
6.) Blackberry Enterprise services needs to be enabled by service provider for each device.
7.) Cost of GPRS (EDGE Technology) this allows fastest email sync
8.) Hardware for blackberry server - it does need a server (see below for configuration guide)
9.) Earlier version of BES requires MSDE, that is now SQL Server Express and while both are free, they do have limitations. It might be necessary to use a full SQL License.

ActiveSync

To implement Active sync solution you are required to have only Microsoft Exchange server as an Email service (not any other mail server ) and few things as compared to blackberry.

1.) Exchange Activesync comes with Exchange, there are no additional licenses. However, you need to make sure you have licenses to cope with any additional mobile usage.
2.) Also may need to upgrade your exchange server to access enhanced Policies, features and security as per the advance version of exchange (e.g. exchange 2003 has few option and policy to set and then it has been increased in 2007 and now a lot more on 2010) if you are using older version of it.
3.) Purchase of certificate to enable https from third party vendor or install your Certificate Authority Server  inside your environment.
4.) Windows mobile phone or ActiveSync supported phone
5.) Exchange administrator can manage Active Sync
6.) Cost of GPRS
7.) No additional server hardware for Active Sync Server software installation
8.) SQL server is not required for Active Sync implementation
 

Security factor…:

1.) Security level is almost same in both the technologies.
2.) Blackberry Enterprise server supports 3DES and AES encryption. AES encryption is fastest and highly secure but requires blackberry devices with firmware version 4.0 or higher.
3.) To date, I have not heard that the Blackberry Service or that ActiveSync has been hacked!!!
4.) Activesync uses SSL port 443 for data transfer which is again highly secure encryption. Although active sync can be configured with HTTP too it is not recommended and again security proponents view HTTPS is recommended for high security .


Conclusions

For me, Activesync does deliver the core requirements of email push. It is cheaper and it is getting better with each version and there is more freedom to choose the mobile device. Blackberry does carry a perception that it is "easy" because it is a black box. But there is as much work involved in setup and managing Blackberry as Activesync.

You need to make sure you get the right system for your needs, otherwise it might be an expensive mistake.


Recommended Reading and Interesting Links

1.) Blackberry configuration guide : http://docs.blackberry.com/en/admin/deliverables/16598/BlackBerry_Enterprise_Server_for_Microsoft_Exchange-Installation_and_Configuration_Guide--1091951-0615124404-001-5.0.2-US.pdf

2.) Highly recommend readers to consult the Blackberry documentation and whitepapers from http://docs.blackberry.com

3.) For BES database management system, users need access to either SQL Express, SQL full version, or if you want high availability, then BES recommends mirroring which does require SQL Enterprise. Whilst older versions do use MSDE, If needing to migrate from MSDE, then : http://www.blackberry.com/btsc/viewContent.do?externalId=KB12247 there are a number of good knowledge based articles from the blackberry site.

4.) Worthwhile reading through the following for Exchange Activesync
   Exchange 2003 : http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa995996(EXCHG.65).aspx
   Exchange 2007 : http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb266973(EXCHG.80).aspx and
   Exchange 2010 : http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa997252.aspx

5.) There is remote Wipe with Activesync, but need Mobile Administration Web tool to do that via additional downloads : http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/exchange/bb288488.aspx

6.) Mobile 6.0 devices and more recent devices and desktops now use Mobile Device Center for synch, not active synch and not to be confused with Exchange Activesync. Have a read of : http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/en-us/downloads/microsoft/device-center-download.mspx 

7.) Good read and overview of setting up Exchange 2003 Activesync : http://www.msexchange.org/tutorials/Exchange-2003-Mobile-Messaging-Part1-Microsoft-DirectPush-technology.html
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