Your BlackBerry may be back up today, but what exactly happened to take millions of the popular e-mail and data services devices offline on five continents won't be fully known until the conclusion of a root-cause analysis now under way, according to executives of Canadian-based BlackBerry devicemaker and services provider, Research In Motion, who spoke at a news conference this morning.
BlackBerry system returns after outages
The three-day outage not only disrupted service to healthcare providers here in the U.S., but it also further damaged the BlackBerry's already diminished reputation in the healthcare industry, according to Dr. William Bria, a pulmonologist and the chief medical information officer at the Shriners Hospitals for Children system, based in Tampa, Fla.
At Shriners, Bria said, “if you get a phone, as an executive or a senior physician in the system, the approved one most often is BlackBerry.” And while the outage caused no serious clinical problems there, he said, it led to physicians “being unable to message one another, and the phone itself was not working right.”
“Today, nobody has a pager, so that is a problem,” Bria said. “All you have to have is the perception of unreliability in that area and that's a big problem.”
BlackBerry outages began Monday with the failure of what RIM founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis described as a “dual-redundant, high capacity core switch designed to protect the system.”
The switch failure caused outages for some customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, Lazaridis said, triggering “a backlog of data” and “a cascade failure” of the RIM network.
“The failure in Europe in turn overloaded systems elsewhere,” Lazaridis said. “When we restarted the system based in Europe, the data queue processing took much longer than expected to restore to our standard services levels.”
Neither Lazaridis nor co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who also participated in the news conference this morning, would speculate on when the analysis of the network failure would be complete. Balsillie said identifying the maker of the failed switch would be “premature” prior to completion of the analysis.
An audio file of the news conference and a video of Lazaridis are posted on the RIM web site.
Lazaridis appeared contrite on both recordings.
“I want to apologize to all of the BlackBerry customers that we've let down,” Lazaridis said. “You expect better of us. I expect better of us. Our inability to quickly fix this has been frustrating. We value your trust and commitment to BlackBerry. We're committed to restoring that trust that we've worked so hard to earn over the years. We are and will take every action feasible to address this quickly and to minimize the risk of something of this magnitude happening ever again.”
There's an old expression in IT that no one ever got fired for hiring IBM. Their computers weren't flashy, but they were solid and the company behind them, dependable. BlackBerry once enjoyed a similar reputation, Bria said.
“It was the hand-held equivalent of the old IBM PC—boring—it didn't capture anybody's imagination,” he said. “BlackBerry had never really been the physician device of choice, but it absolutely was the safe choice up until the last couple of years. Between BlackBerry messaging and e-mail, it really did corner the market. But when technology eclipses even a very good idea, customers eventually win. People wanted to do more as they were watching other people do more with the new generation of devices. And, because physicians are affluent, they were willing to pay for a better device.”
BlackBerry never really managed to come close to matching the iPhone's slick touch-screen user interface while healthcare applications developers focused on the Apple and Android operating systems, Bria said.
“I tried to love some of the apps,” Bria said. “They had a little app store, but it was sad. But even those were funky. It was like running a DOS machine again.”
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