An outage of Research In Motion’s signature BlackBerry push email offering, starting at the end of the business day on Tuesday and lasting through yesterday morning, took much of its North American users offline, leaving Wall Street and US federal government subscribers bereft of their email service.
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM drew some flak in the UK press for its terse response to the problem, which for a while was limited to a pre-recorded message for callers to their tech support line. We are currently experiencing a service interruption that is causing delays in sending or receiving messages. We apologize for the inconvenience and will provide updates as soon as they become available, it said.
A subsequent statement issued by the company after the service returned on Wednesday morning, was no more forthcoming. A service interruption occurred Tuesday night that affected BlackBerry in North America, it said. Email delivery was delayed or intermittent during the service interruption. Phone service on BlackBerry handsets was unaffected. Root cause is currently under review, but service for most customers was restored overnight and RIM is closely monitoring systems in order to maintain normal service levels.
Problems apparently started around 5:15 pm PST, with the service returning about 12 to 15 hours later, but by then users were facing a continually buzzing handset as a backlog of emails threatened to clog up the airways.
In the US, where RIM has the lion’s share of its 8 million subscribers, the story made the TV news, while one web site listed the response from the country’s four big cellular operators, all of which offer the BlackBerry service. One specialized web site led with the headline RIM Botches BlackBerry Outage Communication.
While RIM was not saying what occurred in its public statements, one story doing the rounds was that the problem had been caused by one of its two network operations centers, both of which are located in Canada, going offline. Furthermore, an analyst at Current Analysis told journalists this was not the first time it had happened.
While the company would not confirm the version of events in which the problem was caused by one of its two NOCs being down, it must clearly move to add resiliency to its network and speed plans for NOCs in other parts of the globe.
If nothing else, the incident reveals, like a war in the poppy fields cutting off supplies of opium, just how dependent BlackBerry subscribers have become on the service. That might, on the face of it, appear to represent an opportunity for RIM’s competitors to capitalize on, offering a more resilient service, but the Canadian company will continue to have the edge in terms of security and usability, and if it can add a failover capability to its service, that should help it maintain its overwhelming lead in the push email market.