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2 page Case Study - Posted 2/27/2013
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The Alberta Teachers’ Association

Teachers' Association Improves Disaster Recovery, Productivity with Messaging Upgrade

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is the professional association for the teachers in Alberta, Canada. Email plays an important part in helping the ATA communicate with its 43,000 members on important education issues. Recently, the ATA upgraded its messaging solution to Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 to take advantage of the latest archiving and disaster recovery capabilities. It also expects to improve productivity through remote and offline access to email and calendars.

Business Needs
Founded in Alberta, Canada, in 1918, The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is a professional organization of teachers that promotes and advances public education, safeguards standards of professional practice, and serves as the advocate for 43,000 members. The 135 staff members who work at the ATA rely on Microsoft Exchange and Lync to collaborate with one another and to share information with members. For collaboration, the organization deployed Microsoft Lync Server 2010 for instant messaging, presence, conferencing, and voice capabilities.

* With our Exchange Server 2013 deployment, we can ensure availability and redundancy, which makes us sleep better at night. *

Chris Stogowski
Enterprise Architect, The Alberta Teachers’ Association

For messaging, the ATA deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on a single server that hosted all of the Exchange Server roles. The organization supports about 200 mailboxes, and staff members use the Microsoft Outlook 2010 messaging and collaboration client for email and Exchange Unified Messaging for voice mail. With limited storage available for email, the ATA was archiving email to PST files on CD to help manage mailbox sizes and keep data off the servers. If staff members needed access to archived messages, they usually required help from Information and Technology Services (ITS). In addition, some staff members kept PST files on their computers, where files could be accidentally deleted or corrupted. The ATA wanted to improve its archiving processes and potentially replace its expensive tape backup solution.

Because email is critical to the organization’s processes, the ATA wanted to provide more redundancy and ensure that email is always available. It also wanted to replace a third-party solution it was using for mailbox searches.

The ATA decided to upgrade its messaging solution to Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 to take advantage of the enhanced storage performance and high-availability features. The ATA is deploying Exchange Server 2013 on one physical server running the mailbox and Client Access Server roles, in addition to two virtual servers each running the mailbox and Client Access Server roles. For mailbox database redundancy, the ATA is using a database availability group, which uses continuous replication to maintain multiple database copies. In addition to the active database, the ATA keeps one copy on a virtual mailbox server for immediate failover and keeps another copy that is lagged by two weeks as a backup. Redundant access to the Exchange solution is provided through the Client Access Servers, which are load balanced using round-robin DNS.

For storage, the ATA is using an iSCSI storage area network (SAN) with serial-attached SCSI (SAS) disks and lower-cost SATA disks. “With this storage configuration, we can make space available for In-Place Archives on the lower-cost storage and leave faster Tier 1 storage for mailboxes,” explains Michael Tokunaga, Communications Application Analyst at The Alberta Teachers’ Association. To help manage staff members’ email data, the ATA can use the In-Place Archive, which appears alongside the Inbox in the Outlook client and gives staff direct access to archived email. ITS staff can use retention and archive policies to archive older email automatically and implement a consistent retention strategy. To facilitate email searches, the ATA is using the eDiscovery feature in Exchange Server 2013, which the organization’s privacy officer can access through the Exchange Administration Center.

With Exchange Server 2013, staff members can use a broader range of devices to access email. Microsoft Outlook Web App provides access to email through any major web browser and staff members can use Exchange ActiveSync to access email, voice mail, and calendars from a mobile phone or tablet device. They can also use the offline feature in Outlook Web App to write messages or read received messages when they are somewhere with no Internet access. Staff members also now have access to features such as Auto-Complete in Outlook 2010, which automatically fills in the names of frequent contacts, and voice mail through Unified Messaging.

Going forward, the ATA also plans to upgrade to Microsoft Lync Server 2013. Because of the interoperation between Exchange Server 2013 and Lync Server 2013, the ATA can take advantage of the Universal Contact Store, which provides the same contact information across the solutions.

Through its Exchange Server 2013 deployment, ATA expects that it can benefit from the latest architecture enhancements and capabilities in the following ways:
  • Provide business continuity. By using database availability groups to maintain three copies of the Exchange database, the ATA can more easily recover from an outage or restore email messaging to a particular point in time. In addition, load balancing the servers also provides better redundancy. “With our Exchange Server 2013 deployment, we can ensure availability and redundancy, which makes us sleep better at night,” says Chris Stogowski, Enterprise Architect at The Alberta Teachers’ Association.

  • Ease administration. By enabling staff members to use the In-Place Archive to manage older email message, the ITS staff no longer has to manage PST files and store CDs. With the failover capabilities that its current Exchange Server 2013 configuration provides, the ITS staff can also perform maintenance without scheduled outages. “We used to have monthly outages to perform maintenance, but now we can do maintenance during working hours without service disruption,” says Stogowski.

  • Improve productivity. With the In-Place Archive, staff members always have access to older email messages, and with retention policies, their messages get moved to the archive automatically. Features such as Auto-Complete help save time because staff members don’t have to look for email addresses they use frequently. Finally, staff members have access to their email and calendars from anywhere through Outlook Web App and Exchange ActiveSync. “Staff members can easily sign in to Outlook Web App from anywhere and see a familiar user interface,” says Terry Bruchal, Director of Information and Technology Services at The Alberta Teachers’ Association.

  • Contain costs. The ATA implemented load balancing without the need for additional hardware and software, which helped it to avoid costs while still meeting availability needs. In addition, the ATA saves money by eliminating third-party software. “Our privacy officers can easily perform searches using the Exchange Administration Center, so we no longer need to pay for additional software for eDiscovery,” says Tokunaga.

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 135 employees

Organization Profile

The Alberta Teachers’ Association, as the professional organization of Alberta’s 43,000 teachers, promotes and advances public education, safeguards standards of professional practice, and serves as the advocate for its members.

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2013
  • Microsoft Lync Server 2010
  • Microsoft Outlook 2010

Vertical Industries
Primary & Secondary Edu/ K-12

Country / Region

Business Needs
  • Business Productivity
  • Team Collaboration
  • Unified Communications
  • Data Protection and Recovery

IT Issues
Personal Productivity