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RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers.

By Andrew Pollack on 08/21/2007 at 09:51 AM EDT

RIM may be the darling of the wireless communications world, but from where I sit they’re not treating customers very well at all. They’ve created a situation where customers can easily find themselves locked out of the system for hours or even days though what would otherwise be acceptable business practices.

I’m involved in a project right now that includes a goal of building a redundant Blackberry configuration for disaster recovery. People rely on these things now for doing important work, and an outage is in some ways more devastating to some companies than a telephone system failure. Blackberry has created a situation where customers can easily find themselves locked out of the system for hours or even days with little hope of a fast solution.

It comes down to a simple issue. If you have one licensed Blackberry server and that license appears on their network from two different servers for even a moment, RIM locks the account out completely. There are only two possible reasons to do this. Either their system is so fragile that this simple issue could bring it down in a catastrophic way – in which case one assumes they are absolutely wide open to a DOS attack – or else they’re so overprotective of their license revenue stream that they’d rather lock out thousands of legitimate users than allow an out of licensed server for even a few minutes, when it would be easy to track down the owner of the license and take whatever action was otherwise needed.

What makes matters worse is that according to every customer I’ve spoken to who has had this issue it can take many hours or even days to resolve the issue with RIM once the offending server is taken offline.

RIM has failed to provide the most cursory system by which one server can check to see if its mate is registered before sending its own registration. Even something as simple as a web service that could be called from one machine to see if the account is active or inactive would go a long way to resolving the issue. From RIM, no solution is rumored to be forthcoming for at least two years.

There are several key players in the market with failover products. Neverfail is the most well known. I’ve sat in on demos from them and others, and while they’re good products they are extremely expensive. They also don’t totally isolate the danger. There are easily imagined scenarios where a server could drop off the net due to a network issue, have its failover mate in another site come up and go live, then have the network issue resolve before someone can shut down the primary. If a network link between the primary and failover is down, but both servers can still connect to RIM, it is easy to see where both could come up with the same ID and thus lock the entire company off the use of their Blackberries for hours or days.

RIM is behaving in a way I consider unconscionable around this issue. If their network is so fragile that the temporary overlap of servers is a real threat, or if they’re so afraid someone will steal a few minutes of server licensing (they’re already paying for service anyway) that they insist on such an instant hard lockout policy, than it is their absolute responsibility to provide an emergency rapid unlock process by which someone can VERY quickly get hold of a real person at RIM with the authority to instantly unlock the account.

Maybe it’s because I don’t personally use a Blackberry that I’m willing to poke at this with a sharp stick. Frankly, unless RIM sends me one to play with I’m not spending several hundred dollars on a phone that’s good for everything but making telephone calls and is too fragile to risk for the kinds of things I get up to.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Ben Langhinrichs on 08/21/2007 at 10:07 AM EDT
You are correct, that is appalling. It also sounds like something that could
seriously curtail a company's willingness to rely on the service for critical
work.
re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Chris Miller on 08/21/2007 at 10:43 AM EDT
It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to get unlocked.

Per the RIM product manager sitting next to me this week, 2 years is way too
far out for clustering type technology.

Now, saying that, we host a lot of Blackberry servers. We understand that if
you hit them with the same SRP at the same time locks both, but I don't think
that is a bad solution at this time so the network knows where to send the
communication. If you think about it that way it makes perfect sense. Which
is the right one if there are 2?

You make a good point at some sort of check, but then which wins? The oldo ne
with the valid connection or the new one coming online? Just one of those
things until they get the code out of the door
re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Chris Miller on 08/21/2007 at 10:44 AM EDT
sorry, one more. We host some 'clusters' and also one company that guarantees
response to emails within 30 minutes. yes they ONLY use Blackberry. So we
know your pain as well
30 minutes? Easily said, but not what I hear in practice.By Andrew Pollack on 08/21/2007 at 11:12 AM EDT
The customers I speak with consistently tell me stories of many hours or even
days getting these lock outs resolves.
re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Mitch Cohen on 08/21/2007 at 10:58 AM EDT
A tip to avoid locking your SRP ID again, RIM upon request will provide a
temporary SRP key valid for 90 days, the main purpose is to allow organizations
to migrate from one bes server to another, but this would probably suit your
needs as well as you test your solution.
That's interesting, and worth looking at for testing...By Andrew Pollack on 08/21/2007 at 11:14 AM EDT
...but in terms of failover, the goal is to have a preconfigured setup that is
self maintaining for the most part, and always ready to go on virtually no
notice and with the least human interaction required possible.
re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Mike on 08/21/2007 at 11:17 AM EDT
I've had that problem, and it was resolved immediately with my first call to
support -- all I had to do was provide them my auth key to prove to them it was
indeed my SRP.

Took the whole of 30 minutes in my case.
I'm glad to hear that not everyone suffers the same fateBy Andrew Pollack on 08/21/2007 at 11:57 AM EDT
This should be the case for anyone who has the issue, if in fact it should have
ever happened in the first place.
re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Dennis van Remortel on 08/21/2007 at 12:42 PM EDT
I feel your pain, we currently just set up a second server which is not
running, so if 1 goes down, the other just needs to be started. But a hot
failover would be nicer!
I've griped about this for yearsBy Ken Yee on 08/22/2007 at 04:48 PM EDT
and warn my Blackberry customers. I first found out about this when working w/
Vaultus and understanding how blackberries work at a much lower level and they
had this issue way back then :-P
re: RIM should be embarrassed by their failure to support customers. By Dwight Wilbanks on 08/23/2007 at 01:33 AM EDT
Let me preface my thoughts with, I have never installed a BES server and I have
not read the license agreement.

But, it seems to me that if the issues is licensing, and you have two servers,
shouldn't you pay for two servers and get two license? I apologize if that is
a completly un-informed question.

My real thought is, could you build a delay into your failover?


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