Dar Al-Handasah, an architecture and construction consultancy firm, has long used Microsoft Exchange Server as its messaging solution. Email is critical for employees, who rely on it to exchange project files with clients, partners, and each
other. Most recently, the firm deployed a pilot of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 for 1,400 employees at its Cairo office to evaluate the latest capabilities, such as high availability with database availability groups and support for larger mailboxes. Dar
Al-Handasah found that, in addition to increasing redundancy, it could increase the performance of its business-critical messaging solution and triple the size of its mailboxes to help employees be more productive at their jobs.
Dar Al-Handasah is a leading international project design, management, and supervision consultancy and founding member of the Dar Group. It is a multidisciplinary consulting organization for engineering, architecture, planning, environment, project management,
and economics. Dar Al-Handasah has served over 950 different clients in 63 countries with a staff of 6,300 employees. It operates from 45 offices in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe and five design centers in Beirut, Cairo, London, Pune, and Amman.
The company has long relied on a Microsoft messaging solution, most recently Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. The company also implemented Exchange Unified Messaging so that employees can receive and manage both voice mail and e-mail messages through the
Microsoft Outlook 2010 messaging and collaboration client. Unified Messaging is tied into the company’s Cisco Call Manager voice over IP telephony solution.
||With the architecture of Exchange Server 2013 …, we have tripled everything: bandwidth, processors, memory, resilience, and availability.
| Mahmoud Amin
Employees at Dar Al-Handasah rely heavily on email to communicate with clients, partners, and each other. Primarily, consultants produce and share large files consisting of drawings done in computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs. “We have found that Exchange
Server is the most reliable way for us to exchange files,” explains Mahmoud Amin, IT Manager at Dar Al-Handasah. The company had placed a 50 megabyte (MB) limit on email messages; most email messages average between 700 kilobytes (KB) and 10 MB.
“We had a few challenges with redundancy for our messaging solution,” explains Amin. “We could not failover as quickly as we would like and we had everything set up in an active-passive configuration, so we were only taking advantage of half our hardware
resources.” The company also wanted a better way to perform mailbox moves without interrupting service for employees. It frequently had to move mailboxes, balance database sizes, and remove whitespace. To move mailboxes, the company had to take employee mailboxes
offline, which affected productivity.
To address these challenges, Dar Al-Handasah migrated the 1,400 employees at its Cairo offices to Microsoft Exchange Server 2013. It is using this deployment to gain experience prior to deploying Exchange Server 2013 to the rest of the company.
The company deployed Exchange Server 2013 on three mailbox servers. It implemented database availability groups, which combine on-site and off-site replication into a single solution and provide an easier way to replicate email in order to safeguard the
Exchange Server environment against site-level disasters. Dar Al-Handasah will keep six databases—two active and four passive—on each server. It also deployed two Client Access Servers with an F5 hardware load balancer to increase redundancy and enable maintenance
without disrupting service for employees.
For storage, Dar Al-Handasah is continuing to use the storage-area network (SAN) solution it used for its Exchange Server 2007 environment. It is using lower-tier SATA disks because Exchange Server 2013 has a lower threshold for minimum disk performance
due to a 70 percent reduction in disk IO requirements compared to Exchange 2007. Because Exchange Server 2013 enables enhanced storage performance and lower storage costs, the company increased mailbox sizes by three times to help employees be more productive
and spend less time cleaning out their mailboxes.
IT staff at Dar Al-Handasah are using the Exchange Administration Center and Windows PowerShell 3.0 to perform administrative tasks and manage user configurations. It is also taking advantage of role-based access control (RBAC) to enable different rights
for help-desk staff or employees to complete tasks such as creating distribution lists. It monitors Exchange Server 2013 using the Operations Manager component of Microsoft System Center 2012. It uses Data Protection Manager in System Center 2012 SP1 for additional
redundancy when backing up Exchange Server 2013 to disk.
||With the Exchange Administration Center, we no longer require a remote desktop session. We can connect through any browser and make changes immediately.
| Mahmoud Amin
Employees at Dar Al-Handasah are taking advantage of new capabilities such as the Message Waiting Indicator in Unified Messaging for Exchange Server 2013. This service ties in with the company’s Cisco telephony solution to light up the message waiting indicator
on the employee’s desk phone when a voice mail or email message is received. To access email while they are at client sites or working from other remote locations, employees are using Microsoft Outlook Web App, which they can access from any browser on a computer,
tablet, or mobile phone. They can also use the offline feature in Outlook Web App to access email and attachments when they are somewhere—such as on an airplane—with no Internet access.
By deploying Exchange Server 2013, Dar Al-Handasah was able to understand how the latest capabilities can help improve the Microsoft messaging environment it has relied on for years to help employees stay productive.
Improve Redundancy and Performance
Dar Al-Handasah has experienced significant improvements in resilience and performance by implementing Exchange Server 2013. “With the architecture of Exchange Server 2013 using three active mailbox servers, we have tripled everything: bandwidth, processors,
memory, resilience, and availability,” says Amin. By implementing database availability groups and load balanced Client Access Servers, Dar Al-Handasah has also ensured there is no single point of failure across its messaging solution.
By implementing database availability groups, Dar Al-Handasah can provide a more robust disaster recovery solution and reduce recovery time when failures occur. It can also ensure uptime and improve availability for employees, and it can perform database
restores faster than it could with its previous configuration.
“With the Exchange Administration Center, we no longer require a remote desktop session,” says Amin. “We can connect through any browser and make changes immediately.” With RBAC, Dar Al-Handasah can customize roles and permissions for groups as needed,
providing a more secure environment. With Windows PowerShell 3.0, the company can automate routine tasks, enabling administrators to focus on more critical tasks.
Mailbox moves are also simplified. “When we were migrating mailboxes to Exchange Server 2013, we moved 500 mailboxes in one day without affecting employees,” says Amin.
With the increased redundancy, load balancing, and larger mailboxes, employees no longer have to worry about experiencing email outages. IT staff also increased the retention period for the recoverable items folder from 14 days to up to two months for
some employees, so they can easily recover deleted items.
In addition to improved service levels, employees at Dar Al-Handasah can be more productive no matter where they are or what device they are using. “Outlook Web App works on a variety of devices, but employees get the same experience no matter where they
are or what device they use,” says Amin. For employees who frequently work at client sites, the ability to access email from anywhere is critical.
Amin also believes employees greatly benefit from having offline access to their messages. “We have so many people who have to travel for their jobs, and they need to be productive when they are traveling,” he says. “With the offline access in Outlook Web
App, they can access offline messages from a tablet and see attachments and full graphics.”
By upgrading to Exchange Server 2013, Dar Al-Handasah provided a highly available messaging infrastructure that continues to support business critical communication as its employees have come to expect. The company’s investments in its messaging capabilities
help position it for future growth as it continues to refine its infrastructure.
Microsoft Exchange Server 2013
Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 enables you to increase user productivity and keep your organization safe, while staying in control of your environment, both online and on-premises. With Exchange Server 2013, you can help your users manage increasing volumes
of email and work together more effectively as teams, while protecting business communications and sensitive information as you meet internal and regulatory compliance requirements.
For more information about Microsoft Exchange Server 2013, go to:
For More Information
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