I can finally share a lot more information about our support for ActiveSync in our replacement for GroupWise Mobile Server. To get you up to date with a lot of the direction I urge you to first read my prior blogs on the subject:
To summarize, we are creating a new technology, separate from GroupWise and Teaming, which will synchronize data between any of the connected applications. Once of the connectors will be an ActiveSync connector, to support ActiveSync enabled devices. Another connector will be for GroupWise.
These blogs set the scene for where we are today, so let me now tell you about release plans, feature set and supported devices. Let’s start with feature set – ActiveSync is a protocol and data access method and, as such, we are limited to things that we can support to whatever ActiveSync supports. At a high level that is synchronization of Email, Calendar items and Contacts. ActiveSync does not support tasks, so GroupWise tasks will not sync to devices out of the box – though there is a way that you can make them, which we will cover at a later date.
2-way email sync
Sync content of all folders
Accept and decline appointments
Support all contact fields
Sync contact photos
Search system address book
This list is not exhaustive, and there are even more features coming in subsequent releases around some of the additional things that ActiveSync supports.
The technology works by syncing data from the device to the central cache server, which in turn syncs it to the other connected applications. These applications then do whatever needs to be done with that data – and vice versa.
Our first milestone is to roll this out internally. We are working on defining the schedule for that with our IS&T department. I get lots of mail from people internally who volunteer themselves to be beta testers, so I know that it is as well anticipated internally as it is in our customer base.
We will then release the product to a closed beta group. We anticipate doing this in October, which is right around the corner. If you have not already applied to be a beta site do so at www.novell.com/beta. We normally take about 50 sites into a closed beta group and I can tell you that we have far more applicants than that already – so don’t be too upset if you don’t get in.
Whilst the closed beta program is running we also plan to release a feature limited technical preview publically. It will likely synchronize contacts and the contents of calendars only. The reason it is limited is that we need more bake time on some of the other features – we do not want to release unstable code to the broader public, but feel very confident that contacts and calendar sync will be robust. The goal is to release the technical preview in November
We will then refresh the closed beta program with the final features, around administration and bug fixes, though schedule will be determined by the amount and types of issues that get reported.
Finally, we expect to release the connector in late January and then move our engineers onto the next revision, as well as GroupWise 8 SP2 and GroupWise “Windermere”
We do not plan to change the entitlement for mobility support much from what it is today – in fact we will make it a little more broad. The goal is that anyone on GroupWise and/or Teaming maintenance will be entitled to four products – the sync engine from “Gradenko”, the Teaming connector when it ships, the GroupWise connector and the ActiveSync connector. This is similar to the entitlement today, where anyone on GroupWise maintenance gets GMS.
I am getting questions on what devices are supported, and the short answer is “any device that supports ActiveSync”. Our solution means that we are not installing a client on the device, we will leverage what is on there already, as long as the communications protocol is ActiveSync. To spell out a couple of the devices and/or manufacturers that ship, or have shipped native ActiveSync devices or platforms:
Windows Mobile devices (which many vendors ship on their devices) – Like HTC, Samsung etc. Microsoft have a site for WMS devices
In addition to this list there are ActiveSync client downloads available for many other devices, though Novell will not provide those clients. These include Android, UIQ and Blackberry. If your phone is not listed it likely resides somewhere under one of the categories above, so check your docs for specific mention of either ActiveSync or Exchange support.
GroupWise Mobile Server
Once the ActiveSync solution ships what happens with the current GMS? We have support from Nokia for GMS until the end of 2010, though that support is limited to critical bug fixes and security updates only – it does not include new device support. The time between the ActiveSync connector shipping and GMS support ending is about a year, and we expect that most of our customers are going to be able to move over in that year. We do not plan on a migration tool at this point, as the master data repository is the GroupWise store – we do no need to migrate the data at all. It is likely going to be necessary to touch some of the devices, to remove the old Intellisync software and replace it with the factory ActiveSync software – application management is not part of the ActiveSync protocol, so this will either need to be done manually, or with some form of Mobile Device Management software.
That’s it for now, though we will continue to keep you up to date as things progress
Since ActiveSync is a protocol did you consider adding this to the GWIA? The solution you are pursuing will require another server. True, this will eventually supplant GMS and free up that server but not many will be able to turn GMS off and install this product in its place. I'm curious to know what obstacles led you down this path.
Novell got caught flat-footed on ActiveSync. This should have been out the door by now. I'm not looking forward to another volley of holiday-induced iPhone gift giving and telling the users we can't support it.
Yes, yes, I know. Go third party. We tried it. Didn't like it.
Did Novell say somewhere that Activesync Protocol support will require a dedicated server? Maybe they did, but you can run an MTA, POA and GWIA on the same box now if you choose. Maybe that will be the case with this component as well. Even if it does require a dedicated server, you have plenty of free and commercial virtualization options that you should be looking into for this kind of thing anyway.
I doubt that obstacles have anything to do with this choice. The GWIA has its purpose, and synching to mobile devices isn't it. With that logic, why not make the MTA, POA and GWIA all the same process too? Different processes for different tasks.
Novell was caught off guard by Nokia's public announcement that they were dropping Intellisync, with no forewarning to their partners. They've worked pretty quickly to add a complex component to GroupWise. Quality of the deliverable is crucial in this case. If your primary concern is supporting iPhones, the third party option does work. You can go with the hosted option if it's an interim solution for you. You could also enable POP/SMTP/IMAP for those iPhone users to give them some level of support.
Yes, it requires another server. Yes, we run virtual servers (who doesn't?). Servers, be they virtual or physical, have overhead and have to be maintained. IMHO, Novell missed an opportunity here to reduce their product's footprint for the majority of their customers. We need ActiveSync but will never use the additional functionality of this solution.
Adding ActiveSync protocol support to the GWIA, literally a gateway to the Internet, would have been consistent with the idea of handling Internet communications and not far removed from SOAP, POP, or IMAP support. The GWIA certainly handles more than just SMTP. The MTA and POA, on the other hand, deal primarily with message routing (internal to the system) making them odd choices for implementing Activesync. (The POA duplicates some of the same protocol support, like IMAP, found in the GWIA so your "different processes for different tasks" isn't always the case.)
Nokia did what all business do. They made business decisions based on what was good for them, not Novell. It was a questionable decision to outsource such vital functionality and Novell, unfortunately, is paying the price for it now. Hopefully they will avoid making similar mistakes in other areas but what I'm hearing about "India Support" isn't encouraging.
Again, as for third party support, we tried it and our users didn't like it. It was simply not reliable and fell far short of the performance we got and continue to get with our rock solid BES server. Currently, reluctantly, we support iPhones via IMAP. Of course there is no calendar functionality since the protocol doesn't support it.
Well, the point of the virtualization question was that you seemed to be concerned with the server you'd have to buy in the interim until you remove GMS. We tend to have plenty of virtual capacity on tap rather than sizing our virtualization platform to match precisely what we have running at the moment. I would think that most people could squeeze an interim solution in without too much trouble.
Why it requires a separate server and isn't intergrated with GWIA just isn't important enough to argue about, or to question Novell's decision making process. If you have enough clients that need this kind of service that it's an important issue for you, having a server for it probably won't prove to be a big deal. I am surprised that they've announced that it will require a dedicated server though - taking your word for it on that - I haven't bothered to verify. It's fine with me, because every other solution I've looked into has that requirement, but still surprising. I would expect it to be in the form of an agent that can run alongside other agents. But again, it doesn't bother me either way.
I think that GWIA is the wrong place for ActiveSync. It's a completely different type of process. It is a gateway, like GWIA is a gateway, but it deserves its own agent. The functionality of what GWIA does and what ActiveSync will do doesn't overlap enough for a union of the two to make sense. Also, I know that the POA supports SOAP, and we use it, but I wasn't aware that GWIA supports SOAP. Good to know.
Nokia did not do what good businesses with parterships do. It announced an end of life of a product to the public at the same time that it announced it to its partners. Nokia dropped the product because it made sense for their bottom line, and Novell certainly wasn't their key consideration in doing so, but there's generally some forewarning and planning involved. And the decision of Novell to partner for that solution rather than to develop one was the best decision at the time. The provided their customers with a solution based on the biggest player in that market at no additional cost, which gave immediate benefit. They didn't charge you extra then pull the rug from beneath you. I've seen Novell and other companies criticized for not partnering enough, partnering too much, and in this case, they're being criticized by some for going the way of Microsoft with Activesync protocol. They made the best decision at the time, and I think they're making the best decision at this time. Will it be the best thing in three years time - who knows?
Anyway, there's certainly no harm in disagreeing with them, but I personally agree with them in this case and in the case of their choice to outsource with Intellisync at the time, and I'm most concerned with them delivering a functional and quality product.