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    Flawed Software Upgrade Caused BlackBerry Malfunction  
    The New York Times  


    February 13, 2008  

OTTAWA — As was the case with last year’s BlackBerry service failure, Research In Motion blamed a flawed software upgrade for shutting down wireless e-mail messages to millions of its North American subscribers for about three hours on Monday.

In a brief statement issued late Tuesday afternoon, the company said the trouble had been isolated to an “internal data routing system within the BlackBerry service infrastructure that had been recently upgraded.”

Like the upgrade that provoked a 10-hour shutdown in April 2007, this week’s troublesome software was intended to speed up the company’s handling of the e-mail messages of its customers and to provide additional capacity.

The finding appears to contradict assurances from R.I.M. that it had resolved last year’s problems. It also raised questions about the company’s highly centralized approach to handling e-mail messages, a stark contrast to the extremely diffuse structure of the Internet.

“R.I.M. is showing its age,” said Iain Grant, a telecommunications analyst with the SeaBoard Group in Montreal. “It thought that it had all the necessary procedures and systems in place. But it seems to have reached or exceeded its grasp.”

All e-mail messages traveling to and from BlackBerrys must pass through one of R.I.M.’s network operations centers. The company did not respond to questions about those centers on Tuesday, but it has previously said that North American messages are handled by two operations located near its head office in Waterloo, Ontario. Several analysts speculated that because not all eight million North American BlackBerry users were affected on Monday, only one of those centers was plagued by software trouble.

By contrast, Palm uses a wireless e-mail system from Microsoft that exchanges messages directly between its Treo devices and mail servers without a side trip through a centralized operations center.

While some analysts say that failures are more frequent with the Microsoft approach, they affect relatively few users at a time. R.I.M.’s approach is generally seen as more robust, but its two major shutdowns disrupted service to millions of users.

For some users, particularly governments, one advantage to R.I.M.’s centralized approach is the high degree of security.

Mr. Grant said the two major failures did not mean that R.I.M. had outgrown its centralized system, despite having 12 million subscribers worldwide. But the problems, he added, strongly suggest that R.I.M. needs additional operating centers to provide more backup and that its software testing systems are inadequate for the company’s operating scale.

Mark Ciabattari, the senior marketing manager at Palm, said he expected R.I.M.’s problems to cause some users to take a look at his company’s approach to e-mail. “Most end users don’t realize there is a third party between their e-mail device and the corporate e-mail server,” he said, referring to BlackBerry.


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