Some time ago the guys at Opality offered me a trial on the Hosted Exchange servers. This service really makes working from your mobile extremely easy and fully functional.
Straight off the bat, once my account was up and running on the Opality hosted exchange servers, I made the changes to my Outlook client to connect with the exchange server and I was up and running. I then moved all my contacts, calendar and mail to the exchange server. This was simple enough, just drag them onto the exchange server folder on the Outlook client and it started moving the information.
The idea of moving the information to the exchange server was so that I could share my contacts and calendar with other staff and also would now be able to use my phone as an extension of my PC, or should I say an extension of my Outlook workings.
So this simple process gave me the following benefits:
• My Calendar was now sharable to all staff connected to the same hosted exchange area - as you can imagine each customer has their own virtual exchange server and the information is still your own.
• My Contacts were now the company default list of contacts and other staff also now had access to these contacts - obviously you can still have you own contacts outside of the company default.
• The backup and management of the mail server now rested with the experts at Opality.
• I had Web access to my Outlook.
Now the next task was to get my cell phone added to the hosted exchange environment. The people at the hosted exchange companies will help you set this up on your phone. Once the phone makes the connection, all the contacts, email and calendar items start to appear on the phone - I was impressed. I was using the Nokia e71 smartphone with this connection and the phone used the Mail for Exchange from Nokia to make this connection possible. The only cost here would be the data usage on my phone.
I used this for a while with great success, but then started to wonder about the extra data I was using on my phone and asked about a solution. The solution offered was to subscribe to Vodacom for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) connection package which included free data and a connection through to the Exchange Server hosted by Opality. The cost of this service from Vodacom is approximately R115 per month per user.
The BES offers:
• Better security (Like remote Wipe)
• Wireless push synchronisation of email and tasks, notes, contacts, calendar activities - happens from the server side not from the phone having to request the synchronisation.
• Unlimited data usage.
It is also possible to use the slightly cheaper solution from BlackBerry called the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), this is slightly cheaper from Vodacom, priced at R60 per month.
• Push email - this is a bit more clumsy compared to the BES connection - sometimes there would be a delay in retrieving mail - I found.
• Unlimited data usage.
This was all dandy, although they call for a connection to a BlackBerry phone and I had a Nokia. The solution to this issue was a product called BlackBerry Connect, which installs on the Nokia allowing you to use these services on a Nokia phone. We sweated trying to find the right version for my e71, but in the end discovered that Nokia and BlackBerry had discontinued this product - I can understand the reason behind it, they want to increase sales of their own devices as they have a winning formula on the connection side.
So Brad at Opality organised a BlackBerry phone from RIM South Africa, very kind of him and Robyn from RIM.
Yoh, yoh - what a pleasure to get up and running. I switched off the Nokia, switched on the BlackBerry for the first time, entered the details for the hosted exchange and in seconds the phone had been updated with everything I had before. Maybe this was more the BES at work, but it really impressed me.
The BES connection with the BlackBerry phone is perfect - anybody who is often out of the office should have a solution like this - your phone really is an extension of your Outlook on your PC.
As great as the hosted exchange, BES and the BlackBerry phone were for me, I stopped using it after the evaluation was over, as I did not have staff to share contacts and calendars with and although the synchronisation of my mail, calendar and contacts was great it did not justify my paying an extra R200 odd per mail box per month.
Currently I have my email setup as a POP connection and I synchronise my phone with Outlook every now and then to keep the calendar and contacts up to date.
If I had additional staff, especially those who work in another office, there is no question that I would opt for the Hosted Exchange. The benefits are worth the R75 odd per user per month. As for BES or BIS, I think I would go for the BES service if using an Exchange Server, otherwise the BIS service. Of course the BIS and BES only work with the BlackBerry device.