BlackBerrys have become a critical component of the enterprise, and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) works behind the scenes to ensure messages make it to the device.
But more and more companies are having problems with their BES. Whether it's a capacity question, lack of knowledge, or the BlackBerry deployment outgrowing expectations, ensuring that the BES environment is healthy can help combat many issues.
Zenprise, maker of tools that automatically troubleshoot BlackBerry issues, this week released a list of eight tips and best practices to ensure a healthy BES environment. Ahmed Datoo, Zenprise's vice president of marketing, said the list was created after the company realised that many BES users, regardless of size, suffer many of the same problems.
"There are some general types of problems, regardless of size," Datoo said. "But in smaller environments, it's usually lack of knowledge [that creates problems], and in larger deployments, it's the organic growth of BlackBerrys - when you're first rolling them out, no one is worrying about capacity."
And as BlackBerry deployments grow, the amount of time companies must spend adding and supporting users grows with it. Oftentimes, firefighting BlackBerry problems as they arise takes away from the bigger picture, which could be trouble in the BES or the infrastructure.
Datoo said one of the most common BES issues is the communication between the BES and Exchange servers. Next to that, users are the most likely suspects when something goes wrong.
When things go wrong, it's never pretty, he said.
"You'll have outages where users aren't getting messages to their BlackBerrys," he said. "And the important, critical users, who are usually executives, will get mad at you."
Also, Datoo said, following a list of best practices frees up BlackBerry administrators to perform other tasks, since in many cases BlackBerry admins also have non-BlackBerry-related issues to support.
"Troubleshooting and finding the root cause of BlackBerry issues is very, very time consuming," he said. "And generally, the problem impacts lots of users, not just one."
Datoo recommends these best practices to ensure that the BES environment is healthy:
- Ensure you have enough Exchange server capacity. "Every BlackBerry user added to your environment can generate a fair amount of load on your Exchange server," he said. "An Exchange server that is overburdened with users and doesn't have enough capacity will cause availability problems for BES."
- Whenever possible, co-locate your BES server and Exchange server in the same geographic location. Datoo said: "There is a fair amount of network traffic between your BES and Exchange servers. Co-locating your servers reduces the risk of outages attributed to slow/unavailable network connections."
- Consistently monitor and audit your Active Directory infrastructure. "Changes made to permissions within Active Directory can cause users to no longer be able to send/receive emails," he said.
- Judiciously apply patches on the Exchange server, as these patches can break BES. "The BES server requires the same version of files that can be found on the Exchange server," Datoo said. "Patches applied to Exchange that update file versions will cause problems with BlackBerry."
- Monitor your end-to-end BlackBerry infrastructure. "Set up a monitoring system to detect carrier-related outages or outages with the RIM network," he said. "This allows you to quickly identify whether the problem is in your infrastructure or outside your infrastructure."
Along with offering tips for a healthy BES, Datoo suggested three ways to recover quickly from BlackBerry-related issues, including:
- Isolate the scope of the problem. "It's important to quickly identify whether the problem is impacting a single user on a given BES server, multiple users on a BES server, all users on a BES server, all users across all BES servers," Datoo said. "Knowing the scope of the problem helps focus the troubleshooting steps taken."
- Develop an early warning system of common problems. Datoo suggested: "Proactively monitor a variety of performance and fault indicators across the BlackBerry infrastructure. Performance often degrades over a period of time before a full-blown outage occurs. Proactively identifying these performance degradations as they occur ensures IT can quickly resolve issues before users are impacted."
- Be ready to assemble a cross-functional SWAT team to quickly resolve BlackBerry problems. "More often than not, the root cause of BlackBerry issues is somewhere outside the BlackBerry server," Datoo said. "Develop a formal process to assemble cross-functional support teams for any BlackBerry outages to ensure problems are quickly resolved. Team members should include representatives from BlackBerry, Exchange and network teams, at a minimum. Ideally [the team] should also include representatives from the Active Directory and security teams."
Datoo said the goal is to be able to solve outages faster and to better understand how BES performs. He said one way companies can ensure that their BES environment is healthy is to collect performance statistics on the BES and between BES and Exchange. From there, companies can start base-lining performance and see what it looks like weekly, monthly and over several months. That will help admins better understand where the problem may be if an issue arises.
"You have to have the data in hand to make intelligent decisions," Datoo said. "From there, you have to build out the architecture that can help make those decisions. Companies should also look at process-related things. When an issue actually happens, not having the correct processes in place can slow down fixing the problem."