Research in Motion today said it will team up with Microsoft to provide “cloud” data storage and management for its corporate smartphone and tablets customers.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company’s goal is to allow corporate BlackBerry customers, which typically maintain expensive BlackBerry Enterprise Servers on company grounds to manage email and other BlackBerry services, to run their fleet of devices on cheaper, offsite servers managed by RIM, saving cash, speeding up rollouts and enhancing security.
Microsoft won’t be managing the data centers, but will allow RIM centers to connect to Microsoft’s own cloud initiative, called “Office 365.”
“It’s a more efficient model for everyone,” said Jim Tobin, RIM’s senior vice president. “As the smartphone starts to handle more of the work effort versus a desktop, and now you add the tablet, that’s the time” to transition from local hosting to cloud services.
That means eventually customers could be doing most of their work on servers, rather than PCs, smartphones or laptops. For the customer, the promise of cloud computing is access to their data and services from anywhere. The reality requires balancing those potential advantages against concerns about putting sensitive data and mission critical functionality in the hands of another company.
Tobin added that although cloud services will also help maintain centralized security, as owners increasingly use their devices for personal use.
The announcement comes as RIM, which has seen its market share eroded by the ongoing onslaught from Apple’s iPhone and Android-based devices. The company is racing to beef up its PlayBook offerings before it challenge the iPad when it’s released on April 19.
Despite some enterprise interest in the iPad, it’s been primarily a success with mainstream consumers. If the PlayBook integrates tightly with RIM cloud services, it could grab a head start in the race for corporate tablet customers.
According to Tobin, as much as 20 to 25 percent of the BlackBerry subscriber base will be using at least some cloud services by the end of the year.