Some of you have business environments in which Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry devices are essential tools. In fact, as I discussed in "BlackBerry 4.0 Tips and Tricks," January 2006, InstantDoc ID 48240, many administrators consider the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to be a mission-critical component of IT services. In that article, I provided you with a number of tips and tricks for getting a handle on your Black-Berry-related tasks; I looked at email redirection, connectivity monitoring, and logging. In this follow-up article, I'd like to tell you about a few other sources of valuable data—both user and device-related—relevant to Black-Berry administration.

User Statistics
In addition to the BES logs, user statistics is another important information source you should periodically check. In particular, two types of user statistics are worthy of close inspection: pending delivery count and last handheld contact time. Pending delivery count gives you the number of messages that are queued on the BES for delivery to the handheld device. Last handheld contact time shows you the most recent moment that the BES received a delivery confirmation or command from the device. You can view both of these statistics from BlackBerry Manager, which Figure 1 shows. The Pending column displays the pending delivery count, and the Last contact time column displays the most recent contact.

Pending delivery count. The Pending count is important for performance reasons. When messages arrive that are destined for handheld devices, the BES sends only five messages onto the wireless network at a time for any one device. The BES queues any other messages. For example, if I receive eight new messages, five go to the Server Routing Protocol (SRP) host for delivery to my device and the other three remain in the BES queue. The BES uses two mechanisms—Notification and Rescan—to determine whether new messages are in the Inbox to place into the delivery queue.

  • Notification—Notification works the same as it does in Outlook. When a new message arrives, Exchange sends the registered MAPI client a notification that something new is in the Inbox, and the agents read and process it.
  • Rescan—In the case of Rescan, the agents periodically take inventory of all messages in the Inbox so that the BES can be sure it knows about any new messages. The BES performs this function because the notification mechanism uses UDP datagrams. UDP packets, unlike TCP packets, aren't guaranteed delivery, which means they can be missed or lost. Rescan ensures that no message is missed.

If a handheld device is out of contact, messages aren't being delivered and the BES won't be able to send more messages onto the wireless network. Pending counts are important; if many pending messages have accumulated, the BES will spend time repeatedly rescanning and reconfirming that messages are already in the delivery queue. If you have a high pending count, overall message-delivery performance will drop. Rapidly climbing counts could indicate a connectivity problem, but—more likely— it means that a significant number of devices are simply out of wireless contact. For example, over long weekends and during vacation season, users tend to let their device battery drain and don't recharge for several days. Because the device disables its radio when the power drops too low, the device becomes unreachable and the server begins to queue messages.

On busy servers, I've seen pending counts total between 50,000 and 80,000, with typical days' averages hovering at 25,000. In this particular case, the employees were heavy mail users, so these counts aren't horrific. After seven days of waiting, a message will eventually expire and exit the queue. To determine a reasonable queue level for your environment, you need to monitor the pending counts for several months. To do so, you can use BlackBerry Manager to export user statistics, then pull them info Microsoft Excel for analysis. You can also use tools from the BlackBerry Enterprise Server Resource Kit (http://www.blackberry.com/support/downloads/resourcekit.shtml).

The resource kit contains a tool called pending.exe, which scans the debug logs and generates a report. If you discover that particular users consistently have high pending counts, you might want to investigate. At the very least, you can educate these users about how a charged-up BlackBerry is in everyone's best interest. Using this tool, you might even find that the wireless provider the employee is using has poor coverage in certain areas, putting the user frequently out of contact.

Last contact time. Last contact time is useful for identifying users that haven't used their BlackBerry for an extended period. In Figure 1, you can see not only the hours and minutes since the most recent reported contact but also the number of days (if the device as been out of contact for more than 24 hours). I suggest you review this statistic once per week and look for any device that has been out of contact for 21 days or more, then contact that device's user to determine whether he or she is having a Black-Berry problem.

In my own experience, I can remember discovering that one account had been out of contact for six months and another for more than two years! The former was the mailbox of a user who had left the organization, but the Exchange administrators were never notified. The latter was an executive who used his BlackBerry only for "emergency situations" and otherwise never took it out of his drawer—not that the battery was charged when he did. Not only did the BES continue to expend resources attempting to process these mailboxes, but airtime contracts were active but unused.

Most of the time, when I contact a user about such inactivity, the user responds that the device is merely powered off or needs to be charged. Occasionally, however, I receive a report that the device is broken or lost. Aside from the performance impact, there are three other important reasons to review the information that you collect, wholly apart from the possibility that your management team might want to reassess whether a particular BlackBerry device would be better off in the hands of a different user.

The first is security. Do these users know where their devices are? Unless the device is password-protected, your organization's data might be at risk if an unauthorized user finds and turns on or charges a lost handheld device. The second is budget. These devices cost your organization money in the form of airtime contracts, even if they aren't being used. The third is emergencies. Many organizations include BlackBerry devices as part of their emergency and disaster communications plans. If the device is unreachable because it isn't charged, it's not particularly useful for emergency scenarios. Also, if people aren't checking their devices periodically, they might not be working at all.

Device Reports
On top of your role as architect and administrator, you're likely tasked by management or security officers with providing detailed reports about your BlackBerry infrastructure. For example, I was once asked—before I could deploy BlackBerry IT policies to enforce settings—whether I knew a way to determine how many people had followed the organization's written policy about setting handheld-device passwords. Also, property managers have asked me for lists of employees who use BlackBerry devices, complete with the devices' make, model, serial number, phone number, and wireless carrier.

Before BES 4.0, gathering this kind of information was difficult, and long-term maintenance would have been a full-time job in itself—but now the task is simple. Beginning with BES 4.0, RIM introduced the BlackBerry Hand-held Configuration Tool, which Figure 2 shows. You can use this tool to provision and configure handheld devices in bulk and to wirelessly deploy applications. The tool also provides an interface for displaying detailed information about devices, as you can see in the figure. Table 1 lists the fields that you can display. An export function lets you save this device information to a text file. By default, the export contains only the User Name, PIN, Handheld Model, Memory, Black-Berry Version, and Phone Number fields. To export, first click the Explorer view button so that you can see the Handheld Management options: Ports, Handhelds, and Software Configurations. Select Handhelds. All the handhelds in your BlackBerry infrastructure will appear, along with the aforementioned basic fields.

Export Trick
Want to export other data? I've discovered a secret undocumented trick: Right-click the column headers, and add the fields you need. After doing so, you'll need to close the BlackBerry Handheld Configuration Tool, then reopen it. (At startup, the utility reads a configuration file that defines which headers to display and export. Although you changed the column headers, this configuration file isn't updated until the application exits, so you'll need to close and restart the utility to export all your selected fields.)

When you select one or more devices, you'll see a Web-browser?style Export Asset Summary Data link. To export data for this one device, you click the link with the one device selected. To export data for all devices, you select the first handheld in the list, then press Shift+Ctrl+End to select all the handhelds, then click the link. After you click Export Asset Summary Data, specify a folder and filename, and click Save.

There's no command-line option for exporting data, so if you need to automate the export of this type of data, you'll need to brush up on your SQL query skills or solicit the help of a friendly DBA. All the data that you export by using the Export Asset Summary Data function is stored in the BESMgmt database and is easily accessible through SQL queries. The two tables you'll work with are User-Config and SyncDeviceMgmtSummary.

Digging Deep
Diving into BlackBerry Manager for user statistics and using the Black-Berry Handheld Configuration Tool to dig up detailed device information are essential tasks for the BlackBerry guru in your environment. Increasingly, these devices are proliferating throughout the IT landscape. With the tips I've provided, you'll be well on your way toward mastering your BlackBerry fleet.