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Oroszlány City Utility Company
Instead of experts, an expert solution
Oroszlány City Utility Company used to rely on open-source operating systems; however, the operating stage revealed that the availability of costly experts was limited. Often they could not find solutions to the emerging issues, and as a result, the company had to make painful compromises. That’s why Oroszlány City Utility Company decided to implement Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 which, despite involving initial investment costs, can be maintained at low operational costs.
The uniform server fleet is a safeguard of reliable operation, while the ideal cost/value ratio was also a major argument in accepting Microsoft Exchange 2003.
Oroszlány City Utility Company
Oroszlány City Utility Company was established on 6 March 2002 as a legal successor to Oroszlány Distance Heating Ltd.
The main focus for the company, since its inception, is to provide distance heating for the city. The distance heating service area also includes the Power Station Estate in the village of Bokod; the system providing coverage to the condominiums there is also owned by the company. The heat for the two settlements is purchased from Vértes Power Station through a long-term heat sales agreement. The sewer network and the wastewater treatment plants have been operated by the company since January 2000. The sewer network of the neighbouring village, Kecskéd, is also operated by the company as a contract service.
The local government has a large number of flats and contracted the company to manage those properties. Exercising the rights of the landlord and fulfilling the relevant obligations, the management of the property stock has become a significant business. The company manages not only the flat lettings but also the sports facilities owned by the local government, with the focus being to maintain, or if possible, increase the value of the properties. The company employs 63 people with one person dedicated to IT issues, daily operational responsibilities, while major efforts are outsourced to contractors.
A problem of businesses
In the beginning, before the company diversified its business activities, the IT system was Novell-based, says system administrator Szilveszter Horváth. In parallel with the growth of the company, line of business and web-based applications were implemented, replacing the Novell system and migrating to the open-source Linux platform. The primary argument for implementing and using Linux was its availability free of charge. Nevertheless, it did not take long for it to turn out that the company lacked the internal skills to manage the system on a proper level. The issue was not so much the lack of technical skills but rather the need, prompted by the growth and processes of the company, to use SQL server with the related customer service support systems and general ledger systems. To support those systems, Microsoft Small Business Server was deployed. As part of the solution, Microsoft Exchange Server would have been also available; however, at that growth stage the migration decision was not made. Messaging was provided by a Linux-based server, and this server was also used for certain domain controlling and authorisation roles. The Linux server complied with the basic requirements but it did not score well in comparison with the Microsoft Small Business Server solution already in operation at the company at that time. The system administrator of the company was of the view that the Microsoft systems have development potential.
At the same time, co-ordinating and fine-tuning the interoperation of the Microsoft and Linux servers took a great deal of effort. Unfortunately, the process involved data loss and authorisation issues. In terms of usability, the Linux system lagged way behind the Microsoft systems operated at the company; several painful compromises were required for maintaining the system. The system administrator referred to the management of authorisation, authentication and shared resources as typical difficulties. In the absence of Active Directory, the line-of-business applications could not be efficiently used and the permissions managed, which heavily supported the idea to migrate.
With regard to the Linux system, the small number of Linux experts in a city of Oroszlány’s size was both a problem and the reason for major expenses. The overloaded experts were often unable to respond to immediate needs of the company and to find the time to troubleshoot system-critical issues. With the expansive growth of business, this situation became untenable; there were more and more data files requiring special prioritised treatment. It became clear that unless the situation was changed, the business could be gravely hurt.
As a result of the high operational costs of the Linux system, the operational difficulties and the problems related to rights management, the company planned to create a uniform server environment with Microsoft domain controlling.
After the quick implementation, operational costs are low, one employee is required for the daily responsibilities, and the efforts of the system administrator are supported by several built-in tools.
Oroszlány City Utility Company
The opportunity to review the systems used came with the expiration of the usage rights for software licensed under the Microsoft Open Subscription Licence Agreement on 1 May 2008. The OSL agreement covered the licensed use of the operating systems installed on the PCs of the company (Windows XP Professional), the office suites (Microsoft Office 2003 Standard) and SQL database access. The IT development plan took the termination of the agreement into account, therefore a license solution was sought which would be in line with other objectives of the same development plan. The company set certain priorities, including the ability to administer the system internally, to upgrade the server hardware, and to standardise the operating systems on both the client and server side. Other aspects were to enhance system security, to update the backup systems, to establish domain controlling using the Microsoft platform, to implement an intranet system and to deploy Microsoft Exchange and ISA servers. Other than mail and some file management roles, all the services were provided on the Microsoft platform; therefore it was a logical and economic decision to also migrate the mail service to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003.
As part of the change, not only the new mail server was deployed but, having opted for the Microsoft Open Value (OVL) license, the entire software stack was updated for the company. The three servers operating at the company were migrated from Microsoft Small Business Server to Windows Server 2003 R2. The three servers implement three different roles: one of them acts as the ISA 2006 firewall server, the second one is the Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 mail server and the third one is the Microsoft SQL 2000 enterprise server. The number of clients is 60; the domain is administered through Active Directory.
The new system went live in May 2008. The first major benefit was that the IT professionals succeeded in setting all the parameters required for the smooth and customised operation of the system. The change was seamless for the users; the system migration did not hinder their work efforts. The implementation only required the involvement of a few professionals; after a preparatory stage lasting several months, the practical implementation took only four days. The advantage of the new system over the old one is the low operational cost; one employee is required for the daily responsibilities, and the efforts of the system administrator are supported by several built-in tools. According to Szilveszter Horváth, another major step forward for IT is that now his efforts, together with those of the contractors, can be focused on scheduled maintenance and responding to any emerging needs instead of firefighting. The uniform server fleet is a safeguard of reliable operation, while the ideal cost/value ratio was also a major argument in approving the system. As a result of the OVL licenses, software inventory is much easier; now the system administrator only needs to keep tabs on the number of users.
All the users of the system have ECDL certificates. Training on the new mail system, its capabilities and new features is provided on an ongoing basis, so the new options can also be used all the time. The users immediately took to the external web-based mail interface provided by Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. It is important that all the features available in the Outlook mail application can be used through the web interface. The quality of internal mail services has also improved very much. Some of these features were not available at all or were very difficult to implement on the old, Linux-based mail server. E.g. a web interface was available to employees, though with limited functionality.
The company keeps emphasising, and it also becomes evident to everybody as a result of the training that the users now access more than a simple mail system: a feature-rich office productivity tool. The specialists demonstrate how to use scheduling, the address book, what a public folder is, how to access the web interface, what features are available there, what one should send by e-mail and what should be rather saved to the local file server. In connection with the development of the company intranet, the plan for the future is to implement and use SharePoint Services which comes free with Windows Server.
As the domain controller was not a Microsoft server in the earlier scenario, permissions could not be managed properly. Now, thanks to Active Directory, the access authorisation scheme for the entire company has a clear and easy-to-manage structure. The saving of files has become also more secure, there is no need to fear data loss. When the system was implemented, the composition of the different workgroups had to be reviewed, and as a result, more transparent organisational units and mailing lists could be created for specific roles, with well-defined permissions.