BlackBerry Fool

This post could perhaps have been more aptly titled ‘BlackBerry Jam’, but actually I don’t want to focus on the widespread service failures so much as the foolish customers who chose to rely on BlackBerry in the first place.

Why is it only now they realise that what they bought into wasn’t the Internet in your pocket, but a totally proprietary email and messaging service with an inherent single point of failure?

For the uninitiated, BlackBerry is a mobile email, messaging and web browsing service provided by Research In Motion Limited (RIM). The difference with BlackBerry services is that you don’t have a direct connection to the Internet like everyone else, instead all your mobile data traffic is tunnelled through RIM’s data centre(s).

The advertised advantage of this approach is that RIM applies data compression techniques to make more efficient use of the available bandwidth, which should result in faster web browsing and quicker email delivery.

For the privilege of using their data optimisation service RIM levies a hefty monthly System Access Fee (or SAF). This hidden per-subscriber BlackBerry tax is usually collected by the mobile operators in the form of higher monthly subscriptions or call charges.

The SAF revenue stream is hugely lucrative for RIM, which is why they are so keen to keep customers tied into their proprietary service model.

But RIM’s unique selling point is also their biggest flaw.

The problem with their architecture is that you are putting all your metaphorical eggs in RIM’s one basket. As we’ve seen with the prolonged service outages over the last two days, if RIM’s servers go down then so does all your connectivity.

RIM have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the problems. There is nothing on their corporate web site, nothing in the press releases. It’s like we imagined the whole thing!

The only source of information I’ve found is RIM’s official Twitter support account.

The news was broken yesterday with:

Some users in EMEA are experiencing issues. We’re investigating, and we apologize for any inconvenience.

This was followed up by:

We apologize to any of our customers in Europe, Middle East & Africa still experiencing issues. We’ll bring you an update as soon as we can.

BlackBerry email services restored. Some users still experiencing delays with browsing and IM. Sorry for inconvenience.

Just when we thought everything was getting better, more problems this afternoon:

Some areas have messaging delays and impaired browsing. We’re working to restore normal service as quickly as possible.

The most recent RIM Tweet says:

Message delays were caused by a core switch failure in RIM’s infrastructure. Now being resolved. Sorry for inconvenience.

Lots of faceless apologies from RIM, which is of little consolation to their customers.

This issue reminds me of my blog post about the Proprietary Internet. The success of the Internet has been that its distributed architecture makes it resilient from individual system failures. It was deliberately designed this way.

If you tie yourself into a single service provider then don’t be surprised if one day you too find yourself cut adrift from the connected world. If this communication tool is so critical to your business then it’s your duty to ensure that you have exercised due diligence in your choice of service provider.

You’ve only got yourselves to blame!

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2 thoughts on “BlackBerry Fool

  1. At last a communication from RIM’s CIO:

    To All BlackBerry Customers:

    I want to first apologize for the service interruptions and delays many of you have been experiencing this week. I also wanted to connect with you directly, give you an update on the service issues we are trying to solve, and answer some of the questions and concerns you’ve expressed.

    You’ve depended on us for reliable, real-time communications, and right now we’re letting you down. We are taking this very seriously and have people around the world working around the clock to address this situation. We believe we understand why this happened and we are working to restore normal service levels in all markets as quickly as we can.

    Here is the current status of service and issues for the various regions that were impacted:

    For Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA):

    • Email systems are operating and we are continuing to clear any backlogged messages. Support teams are working to minimize the impact on our customers.
    • BBM traffic is online and traffic is passing successfully
    • Browsing is temporarily unavailable as the Support teams monitor service stability and continue to assess when this service can be safely brought online
    • Support teams have added capacity to help with message delivery between regions and continents

    For Canada and Latin America:

    • Email systems are operating and we are continuing to clear any backlogged messages. Support teams are working to minimize the impact on our customers
    • BBM and browsing services are online and traffic is passing successfully (except for three carrier networks in Latin America that are serviced by the EMEIA infrastructure – browsing is temporarily unavailable for those three carrier networks)
    • Support teams are investigating reports of BBM delays

    For the U.S.:

    • Email systems are operating and we are continuing to clear any backlogged messages. Support teams are working to minimize the impact on our customers.
    • Support teams have added capacity to help with message delivery between regions and continents
    • BBM and browsing services are online and traffic is passing successfully
    • Support teams are investigating reports of BBM delays

    We will provide regular updates on BlackBerry.com, RIM.com and via our social channels. We are doing everything in our power to restore regular service everywhere and to restore your trust in us.

    Yours sincerely,

    Robin Bienfait
    Chief Information Officer, RIM

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