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International BlackBerry Outage Spreads To Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) - The BlackBerry outage that began on Monday started out as an inconvenience. Three days and five continents later, it's a disaster that has hit the Bay Area.

The outage, which knocked out e-mail and BlackBerry messaging service, initially affected customers starting Monday in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of South America. Wednesday, customers in Asia as well as in the U.S. and Canada also started to see delays in e-mails and BBM messages.

During a conference call Wednesday with reporters, Research In Motion's Chief Technology Officer for software, David Yach, explained that the root cause of the outage was the failure of a core switch at one of the company's network operation centers in Europe, followed by a failure in redundant backup systems. He said the company has been working to restore service and to stabilize its messaging infrastructure in Europe. Meanwhile, the outage has caused a backlog of data stored in the BlackBerry servers that is now trying to get out to recipients.

Yach said it's this backlog issue that has essentially clogged up the BlackBerry worldwide network. That is what caused messages sent to and from users in the Bay Area to be delayed.

RIM's BlackBerry network architecture is its strength as well as its biggest weakness. Unlike other smartphone platforms, RIM routes all e-mail and messaging traffic through its BlackBerry servers in network operation centers throughout the world. This centralized architecture for the service means that additional encryption and security can be added to the messages that traverse the network. And for many corporate customers, this added security is the main reason they use the service.

But the architecture also means there are single points of failure throughout the network. This means that when there is a major infrastructure disruption, it can affect entire regions of service, potentially knocking out service for tens of millions of customers. By contrast, competing smartphones, such as the iPhone and Google Android devices, do not suffer from the same types of outages because they don't offer a centralized architecture.

"When RIM's architecture works, it's a huge competitive advantage," said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. "But when it fails, it's a millstone around RIM's neck."

RIM's network problems have frustrated millions of customers worldwide. And some on social-networking sites such as Twitter have even threatened to ditch BlackBerry for competing products, such as the Apple iPhone.

So far RIM executives are not commenting on whether the company will offer affected customers any compensation or other goodwill gestures to alleviate their frustration.

"Frankly, our priority right now is to get the service up and running," Yach said during the conference call. "We think that is what our customers are most concerned about right now."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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