Q&A Session with BoxTone's Mitch Berk
Posted 04-19-2009 at 03:40 PM by Otto
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mitch Berk, Director of Product Management at BoxTone, about some recent news coming from the BoxTone HQ in Columbia, MD.
Otto/Port 3101: I hear BoxTone has had some exciting news in recent weeks?
Mitch Berk/BoxTone: Yes, we recently announced the release of the new version of BoxTone, BoxTone 4.0
JO: What does this new version have to offer?
MB: With the new version, we really tried to take the best practices we learned from our 190 customers and embed those into the product. It provides those best practices to newer teams and automates the work for even the most experienced teams - for both the BES Admin/Messaging team and the Help Desk.
JO: I've been using this new version of BoxTone for the last couple months and I must say that it definitely shows the dedication BoxTone has to your customer requests (and demands, err suggestions). Highlight some of these new features that were added to the product.
MB: Well, many of our BES Admin friends really want to get out of the business of dealing with every user call that comes in. They want the Help Desk to be able to handle more of the calls, but not everyone is comfortable giving the Help Desk access to the BlackBerry Manager console.
JO: Right, to expose the limited number of functions that the Help Desk needs to be efficient in taking over the basic user administrative duties, it usually involves a TON of other abilities they don't need.
MB: Yeah, it can be a little dangerous to let the Help Desk run wild. Plus the BlackBerry Manager console doesn't tell them what to do, so you would still have to write all of the policies and procedures for them and then hope they don’t click the wrong button.
JO: That 'Oh Sh*t!' feeling is something we all learn NOT to enjoy early on.
MB: So, we built in the ability to resolve the most common user issues right into our Help Desk console... and coupled it with our diagnostics to tell the Help Desk what is wrong, give them a button to fix it, and then look for positive confirmation that the user is up and running again.
JO: So, in summary, you've added on to your proven Help Desk interface and everything it’s already given our support staffs with the ability to resolve even more issues with the simple click of a button? Brilliant!
MB: That sums it up (in an even more marketing way than I did, LOL!)
JO: So what about this directory services integration? I know I never requested that feature... *wink*
MB: Administering users within BoxTone wasn't necessarily high on anyone’s 'Fun things I get to do today' list, so we took the work out and now allow you to administer your users in Active Directory or Windows.
JO: ...where we normally administer them, eh? That was so nice of you guys to take a little extra work load off our backs... but I suppose that's what you guys are in the business of doing, right?
MB: Yep, simply map a BoxTone role to a group in AD or Windows and any users in that group are automatically granted that role in BoxTone. As the users change in the groups you already manage, BoxTone keeps right up to date. Afterall, we know you would much rather be skimming the forums than administering users.
MB: In the same vein of freeing up time, we also put a lot of work into refining our notifications as well.
JO: So exactly how many man hours went into this revamping of the notification system? I'm sure our viewers want to know just how much you love us, of course...
MB: well I wasn’t checking the time cards, but we had two of our senior engineers working on the notifications and the revamping of our Analysis Console since around WES last year.
JO: After installing BoxTone for the first time a couple years ago, I remember turning on notifications and almost immediately asking support, “Is there a way we could set up maintenance windows times to avoid known periods where alerting would be expected?” So did that feature (Numero Uno on my list) make it into the new release?
MB: Yes, we were shocked to find out that people occasionally do work on their BES and Mail Servers and might not want alerts during those times, so with version 4.0, we added in two new features - Maintenance Windows and Holidays. Maintenance Windows is when we will suspend monitoring and baselining for a BES, Mail Server, or Carrier when work is being done on those services. Holidays is where we will suspend our flow and baselines alerts on days when you think people might be doing things other than sending BlackBerry messages, like kicking back on the fourth of July or scarfing down turkey.
JO: One thing we constantly work on as BES administrators is the reduction of connections between our BES mailbox agents and the Exchange servers that house those mailboxes. How does BoxTone 4.0 help with these sorts of ongoing projects?
MB: That seems to be a project a lot of our customers are going through; trying to clean-up and optimize their deployments to either to stabilize from rapid growth or to prep for another round of growth. We added in a set of new reports that will do the crunching for you and advise you on which users to move and to which BES to move them in order to minimize your BES-to-Mail Server connections. This can result in HUGE improvements to the performance and stability of your BES. We also added in a report that advises which users are essentially orphaned on your BES, costing you BES cycles and user CALs.
JO: This new release of BoxTone seems to be happening right around the time when we're getting ready for the new BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 (or Argon as we have come to love and hate over the last 2 years). Where does BoxTone 4.0 line up with support for the next flagship release of BES?
MB: well as you know, we have been doing our testing of BoxTone 4.0 for quite some time now, so it will initially release with support for BES 4.x. However, we are working on our BES 5.0 certification now and plan to release a service pack around the same time as BES 5.0 hits the market.
JO: Very nice. So BoxTone has a close relationship with Research In Motion, I take it?
MB: Yes, we work very closely with our friends up North.
JO: In a recent discussion with someone in the industry close to monitoring and mobility, a unique take on monitoring was brought up. He mentioned that companies that focus on the health of a BlackBerry environment would ultimately accomplish that goal for the customer, but it's what their product can do for the customer after that point of stability and health shows the real value of the product. This was in reference to a collective agreement (with another industry colleague, a BoxTone customer) that the Help Desk console was an invaluable tool within the BoxTone arsenal. So that leads in to my next question. We've seen what BoxTone has added with regards to the additional console views and reporting, but what else do we have to look forward to and what do you currently offer outside of the core monitoring solution?
MB: We certainly try to take a broader look at mobility and address the needs of all of the roles that are involved. You mentioned the Help Desk console, which is a fundamental focus for us. We can offer the BES Admin the best recommendations in the world on how to improve their BlackBerry deployment, but you'll never get to do anything with those recommendations if you spend your entire day answering the phone or responding to trouble tickets. So we really try to build in the diagnostics and tools to let a Help Desk, even with very little mobility knowledge and experience, quickly diagnose and resolve the majority of user calls coming in. This frees the Admins and Messaging team to focus on the infrastructure and improving the environment so that there are fewer problems in the first place.
MB: But there is really more to mobility than just keeping the environment up and running. Someone has to pay for it and find money to give people like you the big dollars to keep it running.
JO: Yeah, my recent bonus REALLY reflected that notion. LOL!
MB: HAH! We also have put a lot of work into our Asset, Expense, and Compliance Management module, which looks at where you are spending your money on BlackBerry and where you might be able to trim some costs, such as reclaiming BlackBerrys that aren't being used to realize all of those productivity gains or identify people who are spending an inordinate amount of time roaming and might need their service plans adjusted.
JO: Like someone who takes a permanent trip to another continent but refuses to give up their current carrier, BlackBerry, and number?
MB: Yes, exactly. In BoxTone 4.0, we added this tracking of roaming in our new BlackBerry Usage Report - we like to call it the Chargeback Report, because you can run it for any business unit and have the report emailed right to the manager as an invoice of their BlackBerry users every month!
JO: VERY nice!
MB: This answers the needs of the business manager and finance department, and lets the BES Admins spend their time doing something more productive than running reports and queries.
JO: I think I need to look at reporting a bit more often, eh?
MB: I seem to recall you neglecting our SLA report last time we were in person...
JO: Hey now, I found a good use for that report in my annual performance review. It certainly adds a nice visual to the good job you're doing as an engineer.
MB: We also hear that the Compliance/Audit department has been coming to a lot of our customers looking for proof of the security of the company's information. With that knowledge, our Asset Management module also includes reports that show all of the IT Policies you have deployed and proof of confirmation from the device that the policy has been applied, reports that show all of the security wipes you have sent and confirmation of whether the wipe has been successfully applied by each device, all of the applications people have installed on their device, etc. Again, trying to give everybody the information they need and free you up to do something a bit more productive (or at least more interesting).
JO: Not to mention that the tools available to do this sort of work otherwise is complicated, time consuming, and quite frankly, a dreadful way to spend a few hours... that is assuming there are tools or scripts already out there and you don't have to spend time developing something to suffice your needs. So you mean to tell me that I can now pull this sort of information in a VERY small fraction of the time?!
MB: You can schedule it to show up in your compliance departments inbox or on a shared drive every month and not have to waste any of your time on it...
JO: I must have had too much Guinness here lately, because I want to keep saying BRILLIANT! over and over...
MB: ...and getting the confirmations on these sorts of actions would be a real pain manually, as they aren't exactly located in a convenient location in the BlackBerry configuration database.
MB: The last role that is probably worth mentioning would be management. We have added a set of reports that make it easy for you to show them how great of a job you are doing, whether it be tracking the growth of your environment over the last year and the delivery times you have maintained or even the specific service levels that you have provided to a specific set of users (VIPs, perhaps). We have reports that give you an easy way to show off your accomplishments. We also enhanced our dashboard to give you the ability to put your BlackBerry servers across all of your BlackBerry domains into convenient groups. This allows you the flexibility to provide a quick view of the health of your environment grouped by whatever suits your organization, such as Domain, Country/Region, Data Center, or really whatever works for your needs.
JO: So before we conclude this Q&A session (err, casual discussion of technology), anything left to add ...or shall I say, anything special planned for this year's WES? I believe everyone (and their mom, in one case) said the lounge was last year's coolest vendor booth. Anything like that in the works for this year?
MB: We are certainly working on some big things for WES this year, but I don't think we are ready to let that cat out of the bag just yet. But you'll definitely be the first to know. Maybe we should tie in your Guinness theme this year?
JO: LOL! BRILLIANT!
JO: Port3101.org wanted to thank BoxTone for becoming our first sponsor. We feel that we have something unique to offer the online BlackBerry community. What do you guys think of the website and community?
MB: I think you guys certainly have a great deal to offer the online community. There are a lot of sites out there to follow the latest news and rumors (and I am sure we all do), but there wasn't a dedicated place to get the real info for the people that really keep the whole thing up and running. The info available at Port 3101 is great for Admins looking for tips, tricks, advice, best practices and the answers they need to keep their environment running smooth. And earlier I mentioned how BoxTone looks to automate the best practices, so we're out there skimming and looking for what is working, what people are doing, and what you experts need.
JO: Well, my good friend, Mitch... Thanks for taking time out of your Sunday schedule to chat with me.
MB: It has been my pleasure, Mr. Otto.
For more information about BoxTone and their award-winning Monitoring and Management platform for BlackBerry, please visit www.boxtone.com.
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