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[ISN] Balsillie: BlackBerry Shutdown Will Never Happen Again


By Wayne Rash
May 11, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. — In a rare one-on-one interview with eWEEK, Research in 
Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that the event that shut down e-mail 
for BlackBerrys in the United States for hours last month was due to "a 
process thing," and that steps had been taken to ensure that it could 
never happen again.

Balsillie said that the improbable combination of events, which included 
the failure of a minor software upgrade to a caching subsystem, the 
failure of the failover system and the subsequent overloading of a 
second system has been fixed.

"It was a process error that we had that's been fixed. It shouldn't have 
happened, and it won't happen again," Balsillie said. "It wasn't a 
corruption of any form of the infrastructure, and that's very 

"We're clearly putting a lot more fault tolerance into the system, a lot 
more capacity. We're having domain failover architectures; we're having 
business continuity solutions experts, so from that component piece of 
the infrastructure, that's not going to happen again."

Explaining that the problem that caused the blackout was totally 
avoidable, Balsillie said that the company is broadening, strengthening 
and "fault tolerating" the system. "It's a global and public safety 
imperative," he said, adding that there is no constraint on budget or 
resources for this work.

Balsillie did note, however, that it's the responsibility of an 
enterprise to make sure they have continuity plans for times when 
important communications paths, including the BlackBerry e-mail, are out 
of order. He pointed out that RIM was working with customers immediately 
upon learning of the blackout.

"We had literally hundreds of our top customers on open bridges with 
ongoing collaboration and communications. So those that were affected 
had ongoing communications," he said about RIM's support efforts.

Balsillie said that the critical public safety portions of RIMs customer 
base were brought back on line immediately. "Then the consumer portion 
was brought back, also quickly, but subsequently," he said.

The question of a failover data center had been discussed after the 
blackout, especially by government managers who were concerned about 
losing a vital communications link. Balsillie said that now there is a 
failover center, but he will not disclose its location.

He said that the same process problem that caused the blackout also 
delayed the failover, but he said that RIM was still able to get 
critical users back on line almost immediately. "There is another hub 
going in the U.S. across the fault line," Balsillie added.

"There are also architecture failovers and dual homing plans for key 
secret service, government and security forces," Balsillie said. "We can 
view this as a mistake or we can view it as an inoculation. It's 
unambiguously solved."

Balsillie noted that the U.S. government is RIM's biggest customer, 
which is one reason he's taking the issue of the blackout so seriously. 
He said that BlackBerry devices are used across the whole range of 
government organizations from intelligence agencies to the military to 
law enforcement.

"It's part of a broad, broad system of capability. It's shifting to 
mission critical in every sense of the word," he said.

On other topics, Balsillie said that he thinks that telephony 
integration is the "coolest" thing he's seen at the RIM symposium.

"It was considered in many respects unsolvable, but it's so obvious and 
so powerful," he said, "it's not unlike when we did e-mail. People said 
why would I want e-mail on my belt, but it changed everything. Once the 
telephony is synchronized, it totally changes the collaboration world 
and once that's interrelated with your other workflow and messaging, it 
changes everything."

Balsillie also hailed the popularity of navigation for the BlackBerry, 
noting that when people are mobile, knowing where they are can be very 
important. "After messaging and talking, it's the most horizontal 
application. By definition, mobile people have location needs," he said.

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