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Posted: 3/28/2013
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First Technology South African Tech Firm Upgrades Messaging to Ensure Customer Confidence

First Technology is one of South Africa’s leading single-source providers of IT products and solutions. Because email is a business critical tool internally and for its customers, First Technology deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 in its own production environment to understand and experience the latest architecture and capabilities. The deployment will instil confidence in its customers that First Technology can replicate and manage this latest technology.

Business Needs
Using a broad range of skills and technologies, First Technology delivers IT products and services that support business-critical infrastructures and processes to businesses and organizations of all sizes and across every industry. The company supports many Microsoft business solutions, including Active Directory services, Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, Microsoft Lync Server, and the Windows Server 2008 operating system with Hyper-V virtualization technology.

First Technology employees rely on email to communicate with each other, with customers, and with vendors and suppliers. “If our email services go down even for a few hours, the business can lose thousands of dollars,” says Eugene Maritz, Services Manager at First Technology. Maritz and his team manage the data center that supports the branch offices and sister companies inside First Technology. Internally, the IT team had deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2010. It ran the Exchange Server 2010 roles—Mailbox, Client Access, and Edge Transport—on one server in a virtual environment running Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V. It supports about 340 mailboxes of various sizes: management receives 5 gigabytes (GB) of space; salespeople receive 2 GB, and field technicians receive 500 megabytes (MB). Employees primarily use Microsoft Outlook 2010 to manage email. First Technology also deployed Exchange Unified Messaging, so employees can access and respond to voice-mail messages through Outlook 2010.

* Because the Client Access Server role is seamlessly integrated, it is simple to set up, even in legacy environments. It saves a massive amount of time and worry: you install it, point it to the right location, and it just keeps working. *

Francois Joubert
Technical Consultant, First Technology

When First Technology learned about Microsoft Exchange Server 2013, it joined the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program so that it could evaluate the new technology for customers. “We were not facing any challenges with our Exchange Server 2010 environment,” says Francois Joubert, Technical Consultant at First Technology. “We were interested in evaluating the technology to see how we could improve our environment and as a base for future deployments.”

As one of the largest Microsoft licensing partners in South Africa, First Technology wants to grow with Microsoft so that it can show customers it can manage the latest technology. Maritz explains, “We have a saying in South Africa: ‘drink your own champagne.’ By deploying Exchange Server 2013 in our own environment, we show customers that we share the same experience.”

First Technology implemented Exchange Server 2013 in a configuration identical to its Exchange Server 2010 deployment with all of the Exchange roles on a single server. It is continuing to use the same HP storage area network with Fiber Channel disks for storage. For redundancy, the company relies on failover clustering in its Hyper-V environment, and for backup it uses the Data Protection Manager component of Microsoft System Center 2012. To provide antivirus protection, it will continue to use Microsoft Exchange Online Protection.

To transition mailboxes to Exchange Server 2013, First Technology used the Exchange Administration Center, which the IT team can access through a browser. To manage the Exchange Server environment, the IT team uses both the Exchange Administration Center and the Exchange Management Shell, which is built on Windows PowerShell technology.

When First Technology employees are away from their work computers, they can take advantage of Microsoft Outlook Web App to manage email, contacts, and calendars. Outlook Web App also provides offline access for employees when they are not connected to the Internet. They can read and respond to messages, view and edit calendars and contacts, and respond to meeting requests. Anything that they do while offline is synced to the server as soon as they reconnect to a network. Employees will also continue to use Exchange ActiveSync to access and manage email, calendars, and contacts on their mobile phones.

First Technology plans to upgrade to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 and Microsoft Lync Server 2013 in the near future. It will also upgrade to Microsoft Office 2013.

By deploying Exchange Server 2013 in its own production environment, First Technology was able to understand what customers can expect when they migrate to the latest Microsoft messaging solution. It also got a better idea how the latest capabilities can help improve the Microsoft messaging environment.
  • Enables seamless deployment. First Technology was impressed with how easy it was to implement Exchange Server 2013, and it believes that customers will benefit from the simplified architecture. Joubert explains, “Because the Client Access Server role is seamlessly integrated, it is simple to set up, even in legacy environments. It saves a massive amount of time and worry: you install it, point it to the right location, and it just keeps working.”

  • Eases administration. First Technology sees a great benefit both for its consultants and clients in the Exchange Administration Center. “The Exchange Administration Center makes our lives much easier, because they can access it through a browser and without installing any additional management components,” says Joubert. “We also really like how we can manage more than one server at a time.”

    He adds, “The Client Access Server integration also helps us, because we can more easily integrate different versions of mailbox servers. If we acquire a new company that is using Exchange, all we have to do is relay the mailbox servers through our Client Access Server.”

  • Helps employees be productive outside the office. Employees like the latest version of Outlook Web App because it provides a similar experience and feature set as the Outlook desktop client. First Technology also believes employees will benefit from the anywhere access and the ability to work offline in Outlook Web App.

  • Ensures customer confidence. First Technology understands that by implementing the latest Microsoft solutions in its own production environment, it can instil confidence in its customer base. “We knew we could not convince customers to move to a new product if we had not done it ourselves,” says Maritz. “We can showcase our own migration to Exchange Server 2013 to help show customers the benefits they can receive from upgrading their environments.”

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 900 employees

Organization Profile

First Technology is a value-added information technology company that supplies and implements hardware and software solutions complemented by associated support services.

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

Vertical Industries
IT Services

South Africa

Business Need
  • Business Productivity
  • Unified Communications
  • Data Protection and Recovery

IT Issue
Personal Productivity