One organization's experience with e-mail application upgrades

October 1, 2005

Case Study: Compass Health is the state's largest provider of comprehensive behavioral health programs for children and adults from a variety of income levels and ethnic cultures.

With 26 locations throughout the western Washington area and 900 professionals, Compass Health is the state's largest provider of comprehensive behavioral health programs for children and adults from a variety of income levels and ethnic cultures. Patients who may be experiencing a crisis, seeking assistance for an emotional or behavioral problem or have both a mental health problem and a chemical dependency problem rely on Compass' expert care.

As the number of patients seeking Compass' health services increases, so does the need for the company's hundreds of network devices to be running optimally in order for the organization to perform its day-to-day operations. Chief among them is e-mail-the organization's number one line of business application.

In order to be consistent with the most current communication capabilities, Compass recently upgraded its messaging system by migrating from Microsoft Exchange 5.5 to Microsoft Exchange 2003. After the migration, Compass Health needed to meet its high-availability objectives without the burden of allocating resources against the Exchange 2003 environment full-time to handle monitoring, maintenance and management.

In the fall of 2004, Compass considered building its own clustered Exchange 2003 environment to achieve high availability, but this would have been time consuming and probably wouldn't have taken place until much later in 2005. Exacerbating the problem, outsourcing the organization's e-mail was not an option and too many other line of business applications tied directly into Exchange.

Rather than make another move to upgrade from their non-clustered Exchange 2003 environment, a dialogue began with the executive team at Azaleos about the complexities of creating a high availability Exchange 2003 solution base. In January 2005, Compass Health made the decision to implement the Azaleos OneServer for Exchange 2003 appliance and OneStop service, the only fully managed Exchange 2003 appliance offering for customers invested in the Microsoft Exchange 2003 e-mail environment.

Once the Azaleos OneServer was installed, Compass had a highly available messaging system along with the benefit of redundancy provided by the Microsoft Clustering Services and proprietary Azaleos 3-D Clustering technologies running inside the OneServer Exchange 2003 appliance.

"Redundancy and 24/7 monitoring and management are critical capabilities we didn't have before and couldn't really afford," says Rich De Brino, CIO of Compass Health. "It's nice going to bed at night knowing that Exchange won't be going down and that Azaleos is watching the appliance while we sleep."

Within IT, system availability is measured in "9s." The more 9s a system has available, the less downtime there is. De Brino estimates that the organization's e-mail system was functioning at a single 9 (including all planned and unplanned down time), which equaled about 1 to 2 hours per month of downtime.

Return on Investment

Compass has already achieved significant ROI since going live with the Azaleos OneServer in February 2005. Previously, Compass allocated 1.25 FTEs (Full Time Equivalents) to managing its Exchange 2003 environment. Now that number is down to less than 0.25 FTE and Compass has been able to reallocate IT resources previously focused upon Exchange to handle other needs in its network.

"We're not in the e-mail business, and we shouldn't have to be," says De Brino. "With Azaleos, we don't have worry about our e-mail system being up and running and we can dedicate our IT resources to activities focused more on our core business."

The effects of Azaleos OneServer can also be seen from the standpoint of Compass' Help Desk. Tasks such as creating new users, changing permission passwords and enforcing mailbox quotas which used to take 2 to 3 man hours to complete has now been cut down to one-third of the time.

Cornelio Torres is a freelancer based in San Francisco.