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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
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
"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
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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