RIM says BlackBerry email delays continue worldwide

BlackBerry Messenger and Web browsing still down on most continents

BlackBerry email service delays continued globally Wednesday afternoon, while BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging and Web browsing were still down for many regions of the world after three days.

That service update was released by Research in Motion (RIM) in an email to business customers about 1 p.m. ET and a copy was obtained by Computerworld from several sources.

Just after 3 p.m. ET, RIM officials held a news conference to discuss the problems. David Yach, CTO for software for the company, said there's no evidence of hacking or a security breach, and noted that the problems are global because RIM had to throttle back service everywhere because of a backlog of undelivered messages.

He promised that RIM will deliver all of the e-mail messages and stressed that the company's main goal is to restore service. Yach had no answer on whether RIM would compensate customers for the outages.

The BlackBerry situation in the U.S. was somewhat better than in other parts of the world. While BlackBerry Messenger was operating normally in the U.S., it was unavailable in all of Latin America and Canada, where RIM is based.

The BlackBerry Messenger infrastructure was put back online in other regions, however, with capacity being added to handle higher levels of traffic, RIM said in its e-mail to customers.

Web browsing was also unavailable in nearly every area on the globe, although RIM said nothing about how Web browsing was functioning in the U.S. Many customers, including staffers at Computerworld around the country, reported that Web browsing wasn't working.

RIM's note also said that the email delays affected both business customers using the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) service and consumers and small businesses using BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS). BES requires a company to operate a server inside the corporate network and behind its firewall to transmit email and other messages. BIS does not require a special server and is usually sold as a monthly service through a wireless carrier.

RIM also noted that physical connections between global regions were affected by the service disruption that began Monday. Those connections, called Rbridges (for Relay Bridges), are "impacted, so messaging between regions may be affected," the company said in its statement to customers.

RIM is adding capacity to the global RBridges to help with inter-region message delivery, but didn't give a timeline as to when that would be complete. The company offered an example of what problems might occur: A BES customer in the U.S. who sent an email to a UK customer with a BlackBerry smartphone containing a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) would find that the UK device never got the BES email.

Publicly, RIM has posted service updates on its Web site that are far less specific about the recent spate of problems. The latest one, at 9:45 a.m. ET today, said BlackBerry subscribers in the Americas "may be experiencingintermittent service delays this morning."

Some analysts had theorized that the RIM problems might be due to malicious behavior. But RIM's statement to customers blames the failure of a core switch -- and the failure of that's switch's backup -- for the cascading problems globally. Part of the delays in North America could be from shifting enormous numbers of emails and messages to North America from other regions, analysts said.

Today's update indicates that RIM suffered from a disaster planning problem in one region that led to service delays in North America, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. The progression of problems to North America "may have been caused by [data] load shifting during the outage," he said.

"No doubt it will take some time to clear the message cache once the problem is fixed," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "How long is not clear."

The service disruptions led to humor on Twitter accounts, often in tweets sent from PCs. "My BlackBerry is so secure, even I can't read my emails. Beat that iPhone," tweeted Nickpickles at noon ET.

Separately, one Computerworld staffer said his BlackBerry problems made it impossible to load the public bus schedule for San Francisco from the Web on Wednesday morning. He missed his bus.

Some criticism was more pointed. "The expectations of BlackBerry users are extremely high," wrote Mimecast Product Marketing Manager Barry Gill in a blog. Mimecast, which offers email management services, conducted a survey in 2010 showing 66% of BlackBerry users believed even one hour of downtime a month was not acceptable, while 22% said no downtime is acceptable at all.

"I can only imagine how these users feel about the last three days' worth of interruptions," Gill added.

Independent analyst Jeff Kagan was direct, saying in an email: "The RIM BlackBerry outage is not good news for the struggling company as it tries to improve going forward. In the past, these outages were annoyances. Today, with the growing smartphone sector and competitors like Apple iPhone and Google Android eating RIM's lunch, this BlackBerry outage could be very damaging to the company."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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