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Posted: 11/2/2009
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VU University Amsterdam University Saves $275,000 in Hardware Costs, Will Increase Mailbox Capacity by 67 Percent

VU University Amsterdam, a university in the Netherlands, wanted to help employees and students communicate more easily via e-mail. Each faculty, or school, maintained its own e-mail solution, and the disparity in technologies hindered productivity and increased costs. To address its challenges, the university consolidated students’ e-mail on a Linux-based application, but that solution did not resolve all issues. As a result, IT administrators decided to implement Microsoft® Exchange Server 2007 to support e-mail for students and employees—but later chose Microsoft Exchange Server 2010. With the new solution, the university has avoided spending at least €185,000 (U.S.$275,000) on hardware and will increase mailbox capacity for 21,000 users by 67 percent. It has also increased IT flexibility and reduced risk, and it expects to boost the productivity of IT staff and end users.

Situation

Founded in 1880, VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands is ranked 165 in the world by TopUniversities.com. The private university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs supported by 13 faculties (or schools) that include Theology, Law, Medicine, Business, and Earth and Life Sciences. Approximately 21,000 students attend classes that are taught in Dutch and English. In 2009, the university employed 5,000 people and had an operating budget of €333 million (U.S.$500 million).

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* By deploying Exchange Server 2010 instead of Exchange Server 2007, we avoided a €35,000 [$50,000] investment in additional blade servers and at least €150,000 [$225,000] in SAS storage.  *
Chris Slijkhuis
Chief Operating Officer, University Center of IT
VU University Amsterdam
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E-mail is widely used by the university’s students and employees to communicate and to share information about schedules, assignments, and tests. Until recently, each faculty maintained its own IT department and e-mail systems, which ran on either Microsoft® Exchange Server or Linux-based technologies. The disparity in applications impeded productivity, increased costs, and created risk. Students and staff in different faculties could not easily share calendars, which made scheduling appointments difficult. In addition, the duplicated effort of IT employees slowed overall productivity, and many server computers were underutilized, which increased data center costs. The university also lacked a standardized process for disaster recovery, and this increased risk.

To help streamline operations and reduce expenses, the university decided to consolidate all IT departments. One of the first steps in this initiative was to create a single e-mail solution for students with Cyrus—a Linux-based e-mail system that uses Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). Although the solution alleviated some issues, some challenges remained. The university designed the solution to support mailboxes that were 300 megabytes (MB), but students needed more capacity. In addition, Cyrus provided only basic e-mail services and lacked calendaring and mailbox synchronization features. Cyrus was also cumbersome to use and supported only mobile devices that could run an IMAP-based e-mail program. “It’s important to us to have an extremely flexible e-mail solution—especially for our students because they use all kinds of mobile devices and all kinds of client computers,” says Chris Slijkhuis, Chief Operating Officer of the University Center of IT at VU University Amsterdam.

The university wanted to consolidate e-mail so that all students and employees used the same solution. However, rather than implementing Cyrus to support e-mail for the entire campus, IT administrators sought a solution that offered more features. The new system also needed to be flexible, cost-effective, and easy to both administer and use.

Solution

VU University Amsterdam decided to implement an e-mail solution based on Microsoft software instead of Linux. The majority of campus IT runs on the Windows Server® operating system, and most IT administrators are more familiar with Exchange Server than they are with Linux-based applications. Students are also more familiar with the Microsoft Office Outlook® 2007 messaging and collaboration client.

Initially, the university decided to deploy Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. However, halfway through the project, IT administrators decided to implement Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 instead because it offered more features, simpler administration, and lower storage costs.

With Exchange Server 2010, students and employees can access e-mail with Microsoft Outlook Web App using all major Web browsers or with Microsoft Office Outlook Mobile and Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync® using virtually any mobile device. They can also share calendars for easier scheduling of meetings or study groups.

In addition, IT administrators can use Exchange Server 2010 to create Database Availability Groups that use continuous replication to automate recovery from failures at the disk, server, or data center level. Exchange Server 2010 supports the failover of an e-mail database to any other server computer in the Database Availability Group. Easier to manage than traditional clusters, Database Availability Groups also reduce costs because there is no need to have a dedicated secondary node for each primary server computer. And by supporting up to 16 replicated database copies, a Database Availability Group provides enough redundancy so that traditional backups are no longer required.

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* With our new solution built on Exchange Server 2010, students can immediately have a mailbox that is 67 percent larger than the mailbox they had in the past.  *
Chris Slijkhuis
Chief Operating Officer, University Center of IT
VU University Amsterdam
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Exchange Server 2010 also expands storage options by providing smoother disk input/output (I/O) patterns and up to a 70 percent reduction in I/O compared with Exchange Server 2007. As a result, the university can use lower cost Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) disks to store e-mail data instead of Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disks.

In August 2009, IT personnel worked with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Advantive BV to deploy Exchange Server 2010 on a virtual infrastructure built on HP ProLiant BL460c G6 servers. These systems host multiple virtual servers running Windows Server 2008 Standard or Windows Server 2008 Enterprise. Each virtual server supports an Exchange Server 2010 server role. All of the servers belong to one Database Availability Group. The configuration includes five mailbox servers that collectively support three copies of 96 e-mail databases. Four mailbox servers reside in campus data centers, and each of these systems support 24 active and 24 passive database copies. A fifth mailbox server is located at an off-site location. This system stores slightly older versions of the 96 databases that reside on campus.

To increase mailbox capacity, IT administrators configured Exchange Server 2010 so that it can use 600 terabytes of SATA storage on the existing SAN. IT administrators also deployed Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to monitor the new e-mail solution as well as other technologies on campus.

By November 2009, the new solution supported 140 employee mailboxes. By December 2009, Exchange Server 2010 will support more than 20,000 student mailboxes. In early 2010, IT administrators will begin to roll out Exchange Server 2010, along with new consolidated offerings for workplace applications, to each faculty—a process that the university expects to complete by 2011. Initially, students will have a 500-MB mailbox and employees will have a 1-gigabyte (GB) mailbox, but the new system can scale to accommodate a 1-GB mailbox for every user.

After 2010, the university plans to implement Unified Messaging in Exchange Server 2010. As a result, users can have a unified inbox for e-mail, voice mail, and instant messaging (IM), which will be supported by Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007.

Benefits

By deploying Exchange Server 2010, the university has avoided a least €185,000 ($275,000) in hardware investments and will increase mailbox capacity for students by 67 percent. Compared to the previous e-mail systems on campus, the new solution also increases flexibility and productivity while lowering risk.

Saves $275,000 in Hardware

With its new solution, the university avoided $275,000 in expenditures originally projected to support a solution built with Exchange Server 2007. Instead of setting up a traditional clustered solution that required 14 physical server computers, IT administrators set up a Database Availability Group with 5 physical blade servers that will support e-mail for 26,000 users. IT administrators also made use of SATA disks for storage rather than SAS disks. “By deploying Exchange Server 2010 instead of Exchange Server 2007, we avoided a €35,000 [$50,000] investment in additional blade servers and at least €150,000 [$225,000] in SAS storage,” explains Slijkhuis.

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* Today with Exchange Server 2010 … we can easily restore the e-mail environment from our disaster recovery server within minutes—so this capability absolutely reduces our level of risk.  *
Chris Slijkhuis
Chief Operating Officer, University Center of IT
VU University Amsterdam
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Reduces Costs and Increases Students’ Mailbox Size by 67 Percent

Less expensive SATA storage makes larger mailboxes more affordable, which means the university can easily scale its system to meet increasing demand. “With our new solution built on Exchange Server 2010, students can immediately have a mailbox that is 67 percent larger than the mailbox they had in the past,” says Slijkhuis.

The consolidation of the university’s 13 e-mail solutions is just one aspect of a larger initiative to create one IT department on campus. As a result of this initiative, the university will reduce the number of data centers from 14 to 3, which will significantly decrease power and cooling expenses. There will be fewer server computers supporting the e-mail solution on Exchange Server 2010, and the systems will have higher utilization rates because they will support one campus-wide solution—compared to the numerous server computers that supported smaller e-mail systems for individual faculties. The university will also realize power savings by using SATA disks for storage. Compared to SAS disks, SATA disks have greater capacity and require less energy and data center space. As a result, the university can maintain fewer storage systems and reduce licensing and support costs.

Lowers IT Risk

By creating one e-mail solution for students and staff, the university can implement a single disaster recovery plan for e-mail, which boosts efficiency and significantly reduces risk. And by taking advantage of Database Availability Groups for replication, the university can affordably maintain three copies of 96 e-mail databases. The recovery time objective is also faster when using a Database Availability Group compared to traditional disaster recovery solutions that use tape: if a failure occurs, there are multiple copies of the affected database on other servers that can automatically take over within minutes.

“We can’t really compare how much faster our new e-mail solution can recover from an outage because e-mail was previously supported by individual IT departments,” says Slijkhuis. “However, it probably took most departments a day or two to recover. Today with Exchange Server 2010, even if we have a disaster that would impact our two data centers on campus, we can easily restore the e-mail environment from our disaster recovery server within minutes—so this capability absolutely reduces our level of risk.”

Boosts Productivity

The university expects IT productivity to go up as a result of its new e-mail solution because it is easier to manage. “With Exchange Server 2010, we don’t have to maintain a complex cluster environment to provide high availability, and that’s a big plus for our IT maintenance personnel,” says Slijkhuis. In addition, tools like System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 give IT administrators the information they need to facilitate high availability with less effort. “We’re going to use System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 to monitor all of the systems that support Exchange Server 2010 so we can better pinpoint underlying or potential issues,” says Slijkhuis.

User productivity will also go up with Exchange Server 2010. The solution is familiar to most users, and it is easy to use. In addition, employees and students can access e-mail from more mobile devices and Web browsers, and they can share calendars with other employees and students. “By consolidating our e-mail solutions on Exchange Server 2010, users can easily select who they want to invite to a meeting and find a suitable time for everyone,” says Slijkhuis. “We expect to further boost productivity when we take advantage of other features like Unified Messaging in Exchange Server 2010. I cannot wait to have a unified inbox where I can access e-mail, voice mail, and IM.”

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Advantive BV products and services, call (040) 206 03 03 or visit the Web site at:
www.advantive.nl

For more information about VU University Amsterdam, call (31) 20 59 89898 or visit the Web site at:
www.vu.nl

Microsoft Exchange Server 2010

Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 can help you achieve better business outcomes while controlling the costs of deployment, administration, and compliance. Exchange Server 2010 delivers the widest range of deployment options, integrated information leakage protection, and advanced compliance capabilities, which combine to form the best messaging and collaboration solution available.

For more information about Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, go to:
www.microsoft.com/exchange

For more information about Microsoft unified communications, go to:
www.microsoft.com/uc

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Document published November 2009
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 5200 employees

Organization Profile

VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands is a private institution with 21,000 students and 5,000 employees. In 2008, the university’s operating budget was €333 million (U.S.$500 million).


Business Situation

Each faculty had its own e-mail system. After an initial consolidation of student e-mail on a Linux-based application, the university wanted to create one e-mail solution for students and employees.


Solution

The university deployed Microsoft® Exchange Server 2010, and it used Serial Advanced Technology Attachment disks for storage and a Database Availability Group for high availability.


Benefits
  • Saves $275,000 in hardware
  • Reduces costs and increases students’ mailbox size by 67 percent
  • Increases flexibility
  • Lowers IT risk
  • Boosts productivity

Hardware

HP ProLiant BL460c G6 server computers


Software and Services
  • Windows Server 2008 Enterprise
  • Windows Server 2008 Standard
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010
  • Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2
  • Microsoft Office Outlook 2007
  • Microsoft Office Outlook Mobile

Vertical Industries
Higher Education

Country/Region
Netherlands

Business Need
Business Productivity

IT Issue
Desktop, Device and Server Management

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Advantive BV

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