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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.
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