BlackBerries gain remote support tools

Research in Motion's BlackBerry Enterprise Server has tons of management and security features for the popular handhelds.

Research in Motion's BlackBerry Enterprise Server has tons of management and security features for the popular handhelds. But it lacks tools to let helpdesk staff remotely troubleshoot user problems.

Odyssey Software is releasing a RIM BES plugin that lets IT helpdesk and administrators access BlackBerries in the field to solve user problems. The new support tools appear as part of the standard BES console, without creating a parallel system for managing BlackBerries.

Odyssey's Athena is a device management application that can stand on its own or complement higher level third-party tools such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 or, in this case, RIM's BES. Athena is intended as a toolset to manage remote clients that happen to be mobile. It can be used for such tasks as deploying software updates, monitoring device health, collecting and tracking information on the device's hardware and software, and diagnosing and fixing problems.

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The new Athena for BlackBerry Enterprise Server works with the 5.0 versions of both BlackBerry Enterprise Server and the Express version of the BES. With the BES add-on installed, an administrator can directly connect to an enterprise BlackBerry smartphone, and exercise full remote control over the device to retrace the user's problem and fix it.

Help desk staff can see all the installed applications on the handset, as well as all of its wireless connections, such as GSM or CDMA cellular, and Wi-Fi, along with a score of data points for each, such as signal strength, type of service, whether the phone is roaming and radio status.

If the problem is one potentially affecting other enterprise BlackBerries, the administrator can create a standard BlackBerry module, and distribute it through the BES to all users.

The main application plugs into either the main BES server or the server that runs the BES Routing Service, often in the enterprise DMZ. A client-side agent is sent to all phones via a standard BES distribution package, and when activated handles communications with the corresponding server-side Athena code.

There are over a score of vendors that offer full or partial mobile device management, including Good Technology, MobileIron, Sybase and Zenprise.

Athena for BlackBerry Enterprise Server will be available in late October. Pricing is still being finalized but it will be "very, very reasonable," says Mark Gentile, Odyssey's CEO. The company will offer a free, permanent five-user license: this will be a full implementation of the software, with the only limitation being the number of users.

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