Outage makes RIM changes likely

Poor old Research In Motion (RIM), purveyor of the once mercurial BlackBerry, is finding the going tough these days, and looks like it's getting a lot tougher.

To add to its recent less than scintillating sales performance, market percentage loss and failure of new models and iPad competitor such as the PlayBook to make any impact, it now faces problems with its core competency – delivering emails to its mobile devices via its own dedicated network.

What started as delivery problems affecting owners in Europe, Middle East and Africa - and emanating from a failure at the company-operated Slough data center in the UK – then spread to other markets including India and South America.

The company blames the recent messaging and browsing delays on a “core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure. Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested. As a result, a large backlog of data was generated.”

Well, that may sound a convenient and plausible reason to give the market but it could not have come at a worse time for RIM, which prides itself on providing secure and robust delivery of emails to all its customers  – and RIM’s customers are mobile network operators worldwide that remarket the RIM products to their own subscribers. So, when something goes wrong with BlackBerry delivery, it’s the CSPs that get the flood of calls from disgruntled customers. Many of those customers are corporate accounts to boot. Not good!

Plausible as the reason may be, it begs the question how RIM could have allowed a core switch failure to cause so much collateral damage without adequate fail-over procedures in place. As one of the world’s better established "cloud" services, this news adds further fuel to the cloud concern lobby and arguments against the benefits of third-party cloud services. However, as FT.com points out, “RIM has been criticised in the past for failing to provide full explanations to its customers when it has experienced network problems.” And who can be sure that this is the real reason.

Rumblings around the IT community indicate that there may have been other more sinister reasons for the disruptions. The conspiracy theorists will, no doubt, add their bit and imply that “external influences” may have been involved. For RIM to admit that their network had in any way been compromised would be tantamount to admitting that the key reason for using BlackBerry services, the security, was no longer valid and the exodus to other smartphones such as the iOS and Android powered devices would accelerate.

Of course, this is all conjecture, but who knows – the market share RIM holds could be seen as easy pickings for any less than scrupulous market aspirant.

RIM’s faltering position is not necessarily caused by any failure in the design and operation of devices or even the current network issues. It is something more basic – RIM is perceived as a one-product company, and that product revolves around the delivery of secure email to mobile devices. Everything else RIM does or offers on its devices is secondary.

Now, we all know that email is important but it can also be delivered to any other smartphone these days and many of them are much "sexier" (for want of a better word), than BlackBerry. It seems that RIM’s innovation path was very focussed, but it’s a path with precipitous drops on all sides. It looks like the path just got a lot thinner. Expect some long overdue and major changes at RIM.
 

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