Before we answer the second question, do I need one; let's look at what is a BES and how it works. First the BES is software; Research in Motion does not sell server boxes. In fact many businesses are installing the BES in a virtual server in order to reduce the number of physical server boxes. I've always thought that calling it a "server" was not a good idea; to me it brings up metal images of a new blade for the rack.
So why do companies buy a BES? The quick answer is security and control. The BES offers mind blowing control through 450+ IT policies that can be applied to all or selected handhelds in the corporate environment. Some of the policies control SMS, passwords, PIN to PIN, 3rd party apps & remote wipe.
In a nutshell that is how the message flow works. Here's the RIM diagram of the full message flow. They love trotting this cartoon out at every opportunity during enterprise presentations. Pay attention there will be a test!
OK so now that we have that out of the way, what does it actually do?
As I touched on earlier here are some of the high points:
IT Policy management; allows corporate big brother decide what functions you can and can't use
Some more advanced enterprise applications:
Here is a shot of my BES console showing some of the many options available to the admin.
For me personally, the two coolest functions of a BES are the PIM sync and wireless backups. The BES does an entire consistent backup of your device; including fonts, messages, phone call logs, password keeper, and icon locations. So if you lose your device or need to wipe it, fear not! The SQL database on the BES will push all this data back to your handheld. This alone is worth the price of admission.
Speaking of price of admission; how much does a BES cost?
There are two flavors of BES.
Pricing for BESx is the easy one. FREE - totally and completely. You just need the hardware to put it on. More details on what is BESx and all its coolness to come in another post.
BES on the other hand costs. Standard BES pricing (Cdn $)
RIM & their carrier partners used to offer free BES promos but that has been cancelled to make way for BES express. These costs BTW are one-time costs. There is no fixed cost to maintain a BES. You can subscribe to RIM tech support which offers 24 x 7 support and free software upgrades. Service packs and maintenance release are free for all BES customers regardless whether they have T-Sup or not. If you don't subscribe to T-Sup than point releases (4.0 to 4.1 or 4.x to 5.0) will cost you approx. $1200.
Do you need a BES?
If you have an enterprise grade mail server like Exchange, Domino or GroupWise and use a Blackberry the answer is an unequivocal YES! If you don't have a mail server than the answer could still be YES provided you get Exchange - although I wouldn't run quickly into that decision. An alternative new solution hit the market late last year from Google when they launch the Blackberry Connector for Google Apps. I am a huge fan of Google Apps, my whole personal life has been migrated there. Calendar, mail, address book, docs & my website are all part of my Google Apps ecosystem. The only wrench in the whole Google Apps-BES marriage is that the Blackberry Connector doesn't support BES 5.x at this time. I've got an inquiry into the Google group looking for an update on when the will be supported. At the time I'm writing this article I have not received a reply from Google.
OK so that's the nickel tour of what a BES is. Upcoming will be more detailed info on the exiting world of Mobile Data Services (MDS), IT policies, as well as the differences between BES and BESx.