BlackBerry Outage Totally Unexplained

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Mystery surrounds yesterday's huge BlackBerry outage, with manufacturer RIM failing to make the cause of the problem public to users, which include many small businesses who rely on the service.

Companies and consumers that use on the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) were unable to access email, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) instant messaging and all other web services between before 10am and around 10pm UK time - a severe 12-hour outage that also hit the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

It has been widely reported that the problem was down to a "server problem" in RIM's Slough data centre.

But businesses typically have "failover systems" and "back-up mirroring", designed to allow their data to be quickly saved and re-routed to a back-up data centres if there is an outage. The fact that a "server problem" in a single suburban UK location took out BlackBerry's consumer and small business market in much of the world will not only be worrying to its customers, but also the mobile operators which resell the BlackBerry service along with RIM's BlackBerry handsets.

ComputerworldUK asked RIM whether there was a server failover system in place at Slough, why it apparently did not work, and why customer data was not re-routed via a back-up data centre - if one exists for the EMEA region affected.

RIM was not exactly forthcoming. "Sorry we aren't going to be able to answer your specific questions because we don't typically get information about the cause of service issues right away," said a spokesperson.

"The immediate priority is always to return service to normal operation," she added. "Once service has returned and is stable, the teams then begin investigating the cause of the issue, which can take several days."

A number of the mobile operators themselves were not alleviating the BlackBerry pains of their customers. Many BlackBerry users were given little information about the outage from their mobile provider and had to resort to social networking platform Twitter on their PCs, to get updates from others affected who had rung up their mobile provider on higher rate support numbers.

As voice calls and SMS systems weren't affected by the outages, the mobile operators themselves could have sent their customers an SMS alert about the problem but chose not to. A customer notice on the main Vodafone UK website timed at 5.30pm simply said it was aware of a "problem", and would report further when it had more details - that was 7.5 hours after the outage.

Ironically, Vodafone is rumoured to be interested in acquiring RIM according to recent press reports, resulting in a jump in the value of RIM's shares at the time.

With iPhone users in much merriment on Twitter as they watched BlackBerry users panic as a result of a lack of mobile email, instant messaging and web access, maybe it's not RIM's share price that should be of concern, but its tarnished brand.

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This story, "BlackBerry Outage Totally Unexplained" was originally published by Computerworld UK.

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