Isaac Kendall: RIM BlackBerry Outage Explained

If you saw how sausage is made, you’d never eat it. Isaac Kendall dives into the hows and the whys of RIM’s outage issues. The BlackBerry Outage explained.

The BlackBerry backend controls all message flow. That’s a blessing and curse. Here’s a look inside the RIM BlackBerry outage …

Image Credit: Isaac Kendall

Research in Motion has just had another BlackBerry outage. And, to make matters worse for the firm, it happened on Apple iPhone 5 day.  Why are these issues unique to the embattled Research in Motion and their once beloved BlackBerry product? Let’s take a look at how the BlackBerry sausage is made.

Image Credit: Isaac Kendall

Every smartphone other than the BlackBerry makes a direct connection to the users email provider.  What this means is that an iPhone or Android phone has a mail client on the device which is configured to talk with the users Gmail/Hotmail account, corporate Exchange server or mail POP host. This gives your phone an uninterrupted connection to your inbox, mail comes into mailbox and it shows up on your phone. The image below outlines how data flow works.

Image Credit: Isaac Kendall

The benefit to this system is that the points of failure are limited.  If your phone has a connection to the internet you have access to email.

The BlackBerry solution is more complicated. RIM’s backend works as a middleman. This system was designed back in  the 1990’s when data speeds and bandwidth were much more limited. Messages sent to and from the BlackBerry handheld all flow through RIM’s Network Operation Centers and the messages are compressed to conserve wireless bandwidth.  The BlackBerry data flow is represented the in the image below.

Image Credit: Isaac Kendall

The problem with this method of message deliver is that the entire BlackBerry world can be brought to its knees if a failure happens in the RIM backend. The good people at Research in Motion will tell you that there are redundancies in place to prevent a complete outage, but they can and have happened.

Although a surface glance would appear to show a system badly in need up change, there are significant advantages to this method of mail delivery.  The upside is the message compression and decompression.

It is widely accepted that wireless carriers’ roaming rates are ridiculous and beyond acceptable. Here in Canada, my carrier charges me “only” 3¢ per kb when roaming internationally. Given that I know how to multiply 3 cents by 1,000 I’m being robbed for $30/mb.

The BlackBerry system compresses at ration of approx 3:1, so a 3mb email on an iPhone while roaming would be charged at $90.00 v $30.00 on a BlackBerry. Besides all the security surrounding the BlackBerry system, this is the main reason the corporate world still love the BlackBerry.

So as you see the Catch-22 here, one of the greatest features is also its greatest nemesis.  The single point of failure also manages the amount of data a BlackBerry users consumes. BlackBerry users the world over love that the BlackBerry is a friendly roaming tool. These same users scream pretty loud when RIM has a network failure and they are instantly disconnected with the world.