Jay Butler, Senior Technical Consultant

Competent IT managers know that total cost of ownership (TCO) may be the most important factor in choosing the right software and hardware solutions for their business. TCO encompasses fiscal aspects of a solution far beyond the initial implementation expense to include components such as administrative overhead and support, training, user efficiency, disaster recovery, and security. Unfortunately, executives sometimes make decisions based on the initial price tag without fully understanding the implications, particularly when it comes to technology.

The initial implementation price typically varies widely among comparable IT solutions making it difficult to determine the best deal. Over the long-term, the TCO of the cheapest solution often ends up negating any initial savings, and the solution often lacks all the required components. The most expensive alternative may include all the requirements with a lot of unnecessary”bells and whistles”, and it may have a high long-term TCO. Solutions in the middle of the extremes often prove to be the best choice. To illustrate the value of considering TCO in IT decision-making, the focus of the remainder of this article will focus on the two dominate mobile messaging solutions, Windows Mobile and Blackberry.

Windows Mobile (WM) wins the TCO battle hands down over Blackberry when both are securely deployed. The initial implementation cost for WM consists of less than an hour of time to configure the Exchange server plus about $150/yr. for an SSL certificate. Exchange 2003 or newer is the only requirement for WM while Blackberry requires its own specialized server software to provide an equivalent solution. Blackberry’s initial cost consists of at least several hours for an experienced technician to install and configure the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) plus thousands of dollars to buy the BES software and to license each user.

Blackberry also suffers in other areas of TCO. Blackberry server administration and support is very expensive because it demands specialized skill while any technician familiar with Microsoft Exchange can efficiently support WM. Resolving Blackberry problems tend to be far more time consuming than WM because of the additional variables BES introduces. Blackberry handhelds depend not only on the specialized BES and its integration with MS Exchange but also on the Blackberry provided communication network. The simplicity of WM means fewer break points resulting in fewer support incidents; moreover, support incidents take far less time and skill to resolve. Keep in mind that problems also result in the hidden expense of lost end user productivity. Note that overall support costs climb in conjunction with the amount of customized foreign (third-party) solutions like BES, so stick with Microsoft or other systems you already have whenever possible. Simple tasks such as adding a new user takes only minutes with WM. Since additional server configuration is not required, end users can even setup WM devices on their own using simple instructions to further reduce any administrative burden. With Blackberry, the Administrator has to access the BES to setup new handhelds.

Although less significant, the training and disaster recovery cost advantages also go to WM. Administrators should expect to spend less time training end users with Windows Mobile. Most new users familiar with using MS Windows and Office will be able to use WM with little or no training whatsoever. The same cannot necessarily be said for Blackberry unless the user has prior experience. Disaster recovery for WM would typically mean an Exchange server failure affecting all email users, so the recovery would not be attributed to a WM expense. With Blackberry any direct disaster recovery expense would involve the BES and would require specialized recovery steps to restore functionality.

Unquestionably, the cost to deploy Blackberry in the enterprise far exceeds WM; however, I still see clients deploying Blackberry anyway. The primary reason comes down to market saturation because Blackberry beat Microsoft to the punch. Until Microsoft released Direct Push a couple of years ago, BES had long been the only viable solution for enterprises that required device management and security. Direct Push introduced a solution to the market from Microsoft that leveraged technology many businesses already had, Exchange 2003. By that time, Blackberry had become very popular, almost iconic, spawning nicknames like “crackberry” (pardon the term please) because of its reportedly addicted users. With Blackberry so ingrained in our high tech culture, Direct Push has had a difficult time gaining momentum.

In true Microsoft fashion, they have taken an idea from someplace else and decided to pursue market domination apparent in the second generation of Direct Push technology, Windows Mobile 6 and Exchange 2007. Windows Mobile 6 includes significant improvements and new features for end users, and Exchange 2007 puts more power in the hands of Administrators with more granular policy controls to protect the business. Microsoft has recently upped the ante yet again in their release of Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Exchange 2007. SP1 is chocked full of new features and improvements for Windows Mobile 6. It makes more sense to invest in Exchange 2007 and take advantage of its superior enterprise-wide technology rather than invest in BES just to support handhelds.

As another Microsoft technology emerges, Unified Messaging, the picture of an end to end Microsoft communication solution is beginning to appear where the corporate phone system, messaging system, and mobile phone system merge into one. With Microsoft in such hot pursuit, it is becoming very difficult to justify a significant investment in BES and deploying Blackberry handhelds without BES is not an acceptable risk for community banks. Reinvest the TCO savings of WM by trading in existing Blackberry handhelds for Windows Mobile 6.

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