Medical firm avoids Exchange nightmare with outside help

International medical vendor Mediq was expanding in a big way by acquisition and needed a standard email platform across its business, but the project's cost and the complexity of doing it alone was so daunting that the company called on outside help that costs it less in the long run.

The goal was to create one mail domain, one source to connect to and a single mail system, says Leo Witte, the company's manager of IT governance and control. "We had almost every known mail platform in our environment," he says, including multiple versions of Exchange, Pop 3 with Outlook and Domino/Notes.

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Since the Netherlands-based company -- which includes 26 formerly independent companies in 15 countries -- was continuing to make acquisitions, it wanted a mail system that could scale readily as new divisions standardized on Outlook, he says. By the end of this year it will have 5,000 personal mailboxes plus a number of functional mailboxes.

The mail project was budgeted for 2010, with evaluation of options occupying January and February, the start of implementation in June and migration starting at the end of the summer.

Mediq considered cloud-based Web systems such as Office 365 and Google Apps, but decided the variety of systems that would have had to interface with them was too great to manage efficiently. "Cloud would have been nice if we had a standard environment in all countries," Witte says, "but migrating each country to cloud was just too big for us at that time."

So the company chose Azaleos managed services for Microsoft Exchange. The option called for Mediq to buy hardware and license management software from Azaleos, but the service provider uses it to monitor and manage the Exchange/Outlook system.

It also gives Mediq the flexibility to place gear where it wants to and to call on Azaleos for help if it's needed. "You never know what you're going to run into," Witte says. "You need a partner in that to help you." Mediq wound up buying eight Sun servers deployed redundantly on company-owned sites, including one just for U.S. properties as well as a disaster-recovery site in the Netherlands.

Choosing Exchange/Outlook 2010 as the standard platform was important because it works with Microsoft collaboration and communication platforms such as SharePoint and Lync. "We didn't just want this to be an email project," he says.

Mediq still has to migrate those offices with versions and service packs that don't match the standard the company set for itself, but it can do that a piece at a time. Right now, about 90% of the systems have been migrated.

The company now includes this email migration as part of its plan for transforming newly purchased companies into Mediq companies within 100 days. With experience, the IT staff has boiled down the likely scenarios to just four: exporting and importing .pst message files; interconnecting Exchange servers using the Quest migration tool; migrating Domino email; and all the rest including Linux platforms, he says.

Except for local client changes, Azaleos handles most of the migrations remotely or via consulting over the phone. Each new acquisition takes about six weeks, Witte says, depending on the size and number of email addresses. Most of this time is spent cleaning up and testing the local environments before synching the new company with the rest of Mediq, a process that is usually done over the weekend.

Setting up a locally managed system would have required extra personnel to manage and maintain it, Witte says, and the service eliminates that while giving Mediq the tools it needs. "Usually if you outsource you lose a certain amount of control and insight into your systems," he says. "We have the same rights as the system administrator."

Azaleos monitors continuously, handles updates and provides phone support in cases that would otherwise require calling on Microsoft, he says.

The project cost between half a million and three-quarters of a million euros (about $639,000 to $958,000). That's about the same cost as other options, but the others came with higher annual costs, Witte says. Going to a cloud provider would have been much more expensive because it would have required standardizing all the company's systems first, and in the end the company wouldn't have had physical control of its own data.

For example, now U.S. data is on U.S.-located servers and European data is on Europe-located servers, avoiding potential gray areas in regulations in those jurisdictions. Only user data and global address lists are exchanged, he says.

The company did hire Symantec/Message Labs to filter spam and malware, which reduces the volume of email reaching Mediq servers by 70%.

Mediq also uses Azaleos for Active Directory and BlackBerry management. Down the road, Mediq may employ SharePoint and Lync, and will consider using Azaleos to manage them if so, Witte says. 

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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This story, "Medical firm avoids Exchange nightmare with outside help" was originally published by NetworkWorld.

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