In the framework of a general modernisation strategy, the Vlaams-Brabant Province recently updated its e-mail systems. The Province awarded the contract to Simac and ordered Microsoft Office Outlook from the IT service provider for its thousand administrative employees. A few things have helped refine the service provision to members of the public and fellow officials. With this operation, the Province has a single application for its calendar, contacts and e-mail management. This makes the officials’ work much easier, as they previously had to deal with both the e-mail software Eudora and the calendar management system Teamware.
“Integration and recognition were important criteria”, says Karl Pottie, Head of Department for Computer Systems at the Vlaams-Brabant Province. “People are often already familiar with Outlook from home; it is the most popular system on the market. And Microsoft is renowned for its broad integration possibilities.”
To improve the availability of the systems, Simac installed the Microsoft Exchange Server on virtual VMware ESX machines with shared storage on NetApp servers. “As a government organisation we process a very large amount of information and this is impossible without e-mail”, explains Pottie. “VMware High Availability in combination with the advanced NetApp storage management guarantees us the same availability as the more traditional duplicated Windows and Exchange Server combination, but makes the synchronisation and the maintenance, amongst other things, less complex.” Simac took care of the complete installation of the servers together with the Province IT team, with the necessary customisation and the required scripting to allow the technical tasks to run automatically in the background.
Microsoft now also supports virtual server
Pottie indicated in the tender’s specifications that he would make full use of virtualisation. “We had been working with NetApp since 2002 and VMware systems since 2007, so already had all the necessary technological knowledge internally. The management of the two technologies is simple. We ultimately awarded the contract to Simac because their offer met our specifications and wishes most closely. We also suspect that the Exchange Server will be virtualised more and more often. Since the arrival of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft has also provided support on a virtual e-mail server.”
As well as the technical virtualisation order, Simac also developed a number of automated functions that Outlook and Exchange do not provide as standard. Employees were after all used to a number of standard options from the Teamware calendar management software. The employees can also find these in the new system. Simac ensured that a number of reading and writing rights were automatically set for calendars. It is easy to subscribe to colleagues’ calendars from the same department. Public holidays and other days when we are closed are automatically included in all calendars.
Even so, it's not easy to virtualise the Exchange Server. “Not everyone on the Belgian market can do that”, says Karl Pottie. “But we had the utmost confidence in Simac as they had successfully complemented our server architecture with HP and Intel systems in the past. You have IT integrators for small and medium-sized organisations that cannot manage us, and IT integrators for multinationals that we cannot handle. That’s why we opted for a medium-sized ICT company like Simac. They think together with us perfectly, and work completely at our level.”
The Province also looked at alternatives such as Lotus Notes, but couldn’t integrate, or not easily, these systems with the various business applications. The learning curve was also a bit steeper, which is not easy for new employees. The so-called look and feel of Outlook 2007 on the other hand is very pleasant and the software is user-friendly. Employees are also given a brief training course on the new application by the Provincial Institute for Training and Education.
Pottie’s own IT team took care of the installation and configuration of the client software on the users’ computers themselves. They used Altiris technology to automate the installation. The whole project lasted around six months, including the migration of the Eudora mail boxes by Simac.