The King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Public Education Development Project (Tatweer) aims to improve educational outcomes in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through greater use of technology. Tatweer wanted a standardized secure email system for 6 million students and their teachers. It chose Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 supported by Microsoft security products to protect students against inappropriate Internet content.
In Saudi Arabia, 29 per cent of the population is under the age of 14 years. To support its young students, the government spends more than 25 per cent of its annual budget on education. And, as part of its commitment to learning, the government under King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud has launched an educational project called Tatweer, which is run by the Tatweer Education Holding Company.
Tatweer is introducing new ways of learning into the education system using the Internet, computer applications, and other technologies. The U.S.$2.4 billion nationwide program aims to change the way the country’s 6 million students are educated, encouraging students to analyze and problem solve rather than learn by rote. The project also aims to improve training for 500,000 teachers.
Eng. Tarek Mohamed Abd El Naby, Operations Manager, Tatweer says: "A key driver in the project is to provide a standardized secure email messaging system for up to 6 million students and their teachers in an on-premises and hosted environment. It will provide a platform for additional functionality, including unified communications and collaboration solutions."
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has strict laws on data security. The principle that correspondence and communication should be kept confidential is enshrined in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Law of Governance. As a result, the Tatweer on-premises and hosted email project for schools required the service provider to retain all data within the kingdom rather than use a data center in another country.
Security was also a major consideration to ensure proper protection of the students from malware, and adherence to strict policies preventing young people from receiving inappropriate content through the Internet.
Tatweer considered Google Apps and open-source solutions, but decided to create an email solution with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Microsoft Forefront Unified Access Gateway 2010. Tatweer realized the value of Microsoft Services Premier Support Problem Resolution and Proactive Services, which maximize the availability of the IT infrastructure and improve staff technical skills. Exchange Server 2010 is the first server designed to work both on-premises and as a hosted service using cloud computing, which Tatweer is keen to use in future.
The principal objection to Google Apps was that data would not reside in Saudi Arabia and instead be held offshore. Eng. Feras Ahmed Talal Badawi, IT Manager, Tatweer, says: "We needed to comply with the government Council of Ministers rulings for data protection, which are strictly enforced. As far as open-source alternatives were concerned, it would have been difficult to find the resources in the kingdom to support such a large number of users and to use other facilities such as tasks and calendars."
Tatweer opted for the Microsoft solution, with its in-house team planning and deploying the solution using the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) 4.0. The team, which is MOF certified, is also using the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system, Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, and Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 for Exchange Server.
Tatweer will deploy Exchange Server 2010 on a phased basis over three years, with 60,000 users online so far. Eng. Sultan Rayes Bin Saddeek, Messaging and Infrastructure Consultant, Tatweer, says: "Exchange Server 2010 introduces new productivity features compared to earlier versions, and helps users prioritize communications in their mailboxes. It offers an improved web-based email experience with built-in business continuity features."
Tatweer has also taken advantage of low-cost volume licensing of software through the Microsoft School Agreement.
Tatweer is using Exchange Server 2010 for students up to the age of 18 years, giving them free email and Internet access through an on-premises solution in their schools. The Microsoft solution is highly cost effective through the existing low-cost volume licensing agreement for Saudi schools and the manageability advantages of the System Center suite. It uses the latest Microsoft security products.
Flexible for future use. Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 gives administrators the option to use on-premises email for some groups of users and a hosted service through the Microsoft private cloud for other users.
Focus on teaching. The solution helps staff cut down the time previously needed for routine administration. Eng. Abdullah Twijery, Chief Information Officer, Tatweer, says: "They can share calendars, schedule meetings, and reserve resources such as conference rooms at the click of a mouse."
Secure access to corporate resources. With Forefront Unified Access Gateway, key users such as teachers and administrators can gain remote access to corporate resources from any location using a browser.
Improved integration. Exchange Server 2010 offers users easy integration with address books and mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad, ensuring a first step towards unified communications. Eng. Ahmad Mustafa, Network Department Manager, Tatweer, says: "We now have plans to deploy Microsoft Lync 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise collaboration software."
Enhanced security. Forefront Protection for Exchange Server stops malware and viruses attacking the network. It also helps schools block dangerous attachments and enforce policy guidelines by file and keyword filtering.
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