Research in Motion (RIM) officially announced plans for a free cloud-based BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) for customers using Microsoft's Office 365. The free BES from the cloud -- hosted by RIM -- will enable IT admins to monitor and maintain BlackBerry devices while letting RIM handle the tedium of the backend infrastructure.
There is a hosted BES service available now for customers of Exchange 2010 Online. But, that current service is hosted by Microsoft rather than RIM, and it costs $10 per month rather than the much more appealing price of free.
The BlackBerry Office 365 service will be a lite version of the full BlackBerry Enterprise Server -- similar to the features and capabilities of BES Express. But, the service will enable IT admins to deploy and manage remote BlackBerry smartphones from the cloud, and it will also support RIM's BlackBerry Balance service which allows the organization to keep business and personal data separate on the device.
The best part -- aside from the word "free" -- is that the BlackBerry Office 365 service will be hosted by RIM. Obviously, no other organization knows how to manage a BES environment better than RIM itself. Using BlackBerry Office 365 means that customers will always have the latest updates, and most up to date software, running on a robust hardware infrastructure maintained by RIM. IT admins will be free to oversee the smartphone ecosystem of their organization without having to worry about those things.
Other mobile platforms -- namely iOS, Android, and Microsoft's own Windows Phone 7 -- can all be managed using Exchange Server and ActiveSync. BlackBerry devices, on the other hand, rely on the proprietary BES platform.
While RIM and Microsoft are competitors to an extent -- both competing to be the mobile messaging and communications platform of choice for business customers -- the two also have a vested interest in working together. Offering a free hosted BES service along with Office 365 will give IT admins the tools necessary to maintain and manage a diverse mobile environment including BlackBerry devices.
RIM's BlackBerry devices offer little value for most customers without being able to integrate smoothly with Exchange -- Microsoft's messaging platform. As for Microsoft, it has to recognize that RIM's BlackBerry smartphones are a dominant force in mobile messaging, and make sure it is catering to that business audience. Microsoft also benefits by giving customers an additional reason to consider Office 365 over the rival Google Apps cloud-based productivity suite.
There is no set launch date at this point. RIM will conduct limited beta testing of the BlackBerry Office 365 service, with the intent of making it officially available later this year. It is expected that the service will launch in conjunction with the official launch of Office 365 by Microsoft. There is also no official date for that, but it is predicted to be sometime around June.