BlackBerry Rules the Back Office – For Now …

I’ve had a BlackBerry 8830 for a few months now. And I must admit, I’m getting over my iPhone envy. (iPhone’s still aren’t officially available in Canada!) The 8830 has the tactile keypad I’ve grown to love, a (two-dimensional) trackball in place of a (one-dimensional) thumbwheel, GPS-based mapping, etc. This means that built-in WiFi is about the only capability for which I find myself wanting.

But enough about the client-side device (CSD).
So much of the value delivered to the CSD is because of what’s in the back office – behind the scenes, as it were.
In writing a book review on BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) installation and administration, I was reminded of this aspect on the ongoing BlackBerry vs. iPhone battle.
What’s in the BlackBerry back office?
Allow me to itemize:
  • Integration – The BES integrates the CSD with the enterprise messaging platform (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Notes, etc.) and the rest of RIM’s BlackBerry universe. In addition to email and calendaring, this has the potential to include instant messaging (e.g., MSN, IBM Lotus Sametime, etc.) and more.
  • Security – Because the BES provides a single locus of control (the BlackBerry domain), it can and has been leveraged extensively to deliver an industry leading environment for end-to-end security. Encryption, authentication, plus six levels for administrative roles, are all present.
  • Policies  – To quote from my review:

The BES ships with over 200 policies that can be applied variously to users, groups and devices … The ability to administer users, groups and devices with respect to policies (including software), from a single point of control (i.e., the BES server), speaks volumes to the appeal and value that this offering can deliver to corporate enterprise environments. 

  • Provisioning – The BES facilitates provisioning of users, groups, devices as well as associated software. Software can even be bundled and targeted to specific CSDs.
The back office supporting the iPhone has a long, long way to go to catch up with all of this – if that’s even a plan that Apple has.
In fact, a far greater threat to the back-office portion of RIM’s BlackBerry universe is the ecosystem developing around Google Android.

Book Review: BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange

Packt Publishing claims its

… unique business model allows [them] to bring [us] more focused information, giving [us] more of what [we] need to know, and less of what [we] don’t.  

If Desai & Renfroe’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for Microsoft Exchange: Installation and Administration is any indication, Packt actually lives up to its claim. In just 172 pages, Desai & Renfroe achieve an enviable balance between being concise and being comprehensive. This statement applies as much to what the authors have written, as to their choice of what to illustrate. Specifically:

  • Chapter 1 places the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) in the broader context of Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry universe. In addition to itemizing relevant components, an introduction to the BlackBerry’s push model, security and Internet connectivity is provided. 
  • Though brief, Chapter 2 runs deep in addressing BES architecture and implementation planning. For example, we learn that the BES employs a modular architecture comprising over a dozen components. After succinctly enumerating the components and their function, BES requirements and prerequisites are identified. In addition to hardware and software requirements, recommendations are made with respect to networking your BES (e.g., firewall and/or proxy considerations) and providing it with a database. Easy to gloss over on first read are thoughtful recommendations on sizing the BES (including pointers to resources from RIM) and the database for the anticipated user load. 
  • Before BES components can be installed and enabled, the messaging environment and database server need to be configured. This is the subject of Chapter 3. Both local and remote database instances receive attention. Because each step is well illustrated, the book delivers on its intended purpose of serving as a solution guide.
  • The installation of the BES is a multistep process enabled via a wizard. As in the previous chapter, in Chapter 4 the authors guide the reader through this process making appropriate use of illustrations. They interject appropriate commentary, and are clear on out-of-scope topics. The early emphasis on delineating BES architecture (Chapter 1) is realized as the authors transition the reader through the BES installation. 
  • Of course, installing the BES is just the beginning, and therefore the next few chapters focus on the additional tasks required to operationally deliver this service to its users. After introducing the six permissible levels of administrative role on the BES, attention shifts in Chapter 5 to the matter of provisioning users, groups and devices. And with respect to devices, wireline and wireless options for provisioning are given consideration. 
  • The BES ships with over 200 policies that can be applied variously to users, groups and devices. Also covered in Chapter 6 is the topic of provisioning software from RIM and third parties. Of particular value is the authors’ example of a software bundle targeted to a particular BlackBerry model. The ability to administer users, groups and devices with respect to policies (including software), from a single point of control (i.e., the BES server), speaks volumes to the appeal and value that this offering can deliver to corporate enterprise environments. This Chapter’s treatment of policies and software provisioning serves as an excellent introduction to topics BES administrators will return to repeatedly, and likely with increasing degrees of sophistication. 
  • Unlike many of the other chapters, Chapter 7 provides only an overview of multitiered administration – i.e., properties and tasks relating to users, groups, (BlackBerry) domains and servers. This enumeration of possibilities, presented in context, works effectively. 
  • A deeper discussion on security is the focus of the first part of the final chapter (Chapter 8). Encryption and authorization, both of which receive detailed consideration, amplify the value of the BES and its context in the overall BlackBerry universe for corporate enterprises. An unanticipated treatment of disaster recovery closes Chapter 8. In sufficient detail to enable a solution, the authors discuss in turn the measures needed to ensure that both the server (the BES) and its data (housed by the BES’s local or remote database) are readied for a disaster situation. 

 

Although Desai and Renfroe’s BES book unapologetically targets the Microsoft Exchange environment, its value is not limited here. Those working in other environments, and those interested in learning more about BES’s place in the BlackBerry universe, will almost certainly derive value from this book. Because the book is clear and concise, yet surprisingly complete and well-organized, it is likely to be well-thumbed by BES administrators of varying expertise.  

With the possible exception of a concluding chapter, page, paragraph or even sentence(!), to provide some sense of closure to the book, I am at a loss to report any omissions, oversights or errors. And although they might be better suited for a follow-on contribution of some kind, additional discussion might be given to topics such as performance and scalability (e.g., of local versus remote databases), the mapping of BlackBerry domains to organizational units, and/or improved degrees of DR.

Even though the book I reviewed was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher, I would happily pay for my own copy, and heartily recommend this book to others having interest in BES installation and administration. 

Parsing XML: Commercial Interest

Over the past few months, a topic I’ve become quite interested in is parsing XML. And more specifically, parsing XML in parallel.

Although I won’t take this opportunity to expound in any detail on what I’ve been up to, I did want to state that this topic is receiving interest from significant industry players. For example, here are two data points:

Parsing of XML documents has been recognized as a performance bottleneck when processing XML. One cost-effective way to improve parsing performance is to use parallel algorithms and leverage the use of multi-core processors. Parallel parsing for XML Document Object Model (DOM) has been proposed, but the existing schemes do not scale up well with the number of processors. Further, there is little discussion of parallel parsing methods for other parsing models. The question is: how can we improve parallel parsing for DOM and other XML parsing models, when multi-core processors are available?

Intel Corp. released a new software product suite that is designed to enhance the performance of XML in service-oriented architecture (SOA) environments, or other environments where XML handling needs optimization. Intel XML Software Suite 1.0, which was announced earlier this month, provides libraries to help accelerate XSLT, XPath, XML schemas and XML parsing. XML performance was found to be twice that of open source solutions when Intel tested its product …

As someone with a vested interest in XML, I regard data points such as these as very positive overall.

Book Reviews: Coming Soon!

Packt Publishing has kindly sent me the following books to review:

Please stay tuned as I expect to share my feedback here on my blog over the next few weeks …

Cyberinfrastructure: Worth the Slog?

If what I’ve been reading over the past few days has any validity to it at all, there will continue to be increasing interest in cyberinfrastructure (CI). Moreover, this interest will come from an increasingly broader demographic.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what, exactly, is cyberinfrastructure. The Atkins Report defines CI this way:

The term infrastructure has been used since the 1920s to refer collectively to the roads, power grids, telephone systems, bridges, rail lines, and similar public works that are required for an industrial economy to function. … The newer term cyberinfrastructure refers to infrastructure based upon distributed computer, information, and communication technology. If infrastructure is required for an industrial economy, then we could say that cyberinfrastructure is required for a knowledge economy. [p. 5]

[Cyberinfrastructure] can serve individuals, teams and organizations in ways that revolutionize what they can do, how they do it, and who participates. [p. 17]

If this definition leaves you wanting, don’t feel too bad, as anyone whom I’ve ever spoken to on the topic feels the same way. What doesn’t help is that the Atkins Report, and others I’ve referred to below, also bandy about terms like e-Science, Grid Computing, Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs), etc. Add to these newer terms such as Cooperative Computing, Network-Enabled Platforms plus Cell Computing and it’s clear that the opportunity for obfuscation is about all that’s being guaranteed.

Consensus on the inadequacy of the terminology aside, there is also consensus that this is a very exciting time with very interesting possibilities.

So where, pragmatically, does this leave us?

Until we collectively sort out the terminology, my suggestion is that the time is ripe for immediate immersion in what cyberinfrastructure and the like might feel like or are. In other words, I highly recommend reviewing the sources cited below in order:

  1. The Wikipedia entry for cyberinfrastructure – A great starting point with a number of references that is, of course, constantly updated.
  2. The Atkins Report – The NSF’s original CI document.
  3. Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery – A slightly more concrete update from the NSF as of March 2007.
  4. Community-specific content – There is content emerging on the intersection between CI and specific communities, disciplines, etc. These frontiers are helping to better define the transformative aspects and possibilities for CI in a much-more concrete way.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a slog to wade through all of this content for a variety of reasons …

Ultimately, however, I believe it’s worth the undertaking at the present time as the possibilities are very exciting.

Earth and Space Science Informatics at the 2007 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union

In a previous post, I referred to Earth Science Informatics as a discipline-in-the-making.

To support this claim, I cited a number of data points. And of these data points, the 2006 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) stands out as a key enabler.

With 22 sessions posted, the 2007 Fall Meeting of the AGU is well primed to further enable the development of this discipline.

Because I’m a passionate advocate of this intersection between the Earth Sciences and Informatics, I’m involved in convening three of the 22 Earth and Space Science Informatics sessions:

I encourage you to take a moment to review the calls for participation for these three, as well as the other 19, sessions in Earth and Space Science Informatics at the 2007 Fall Meeting of the AGU.

CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop: Follow Up

I spent a few days in Ottawa last week participating in CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Workshop.

As the pre-workshop agenda indicated, there’s a fair amount of activity in this area already, and much of it originates from within Canada.

Now that the workshop is over, most of the presentations are available online.

In my case, I’ve made available a discussion document entitled “Evolving Semantic Frameworks into Network-Enabled Semantic Platforms”. This document is very much a work in progress and feedback is welcome here (as comments to this blog post), to me personally (via email to ian AT yorku DOT ca), or via CANARIE’s wiki.

Although a draft of the CANARIE RFP funding opportunity was provided in hard-copy format, there was no soft-copy version made available. If this is of interest, I’d suggest you keep checking the CANARIE site.

Finally, a few shots I took of Ottawa are available online