With mainstream support for Exchange 5.5 due to end on 31 December, Skandia skipped the 2000 release and joined Microsoft's rapid adoption customer (Rac) programme to deploy Exchange 2003.
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Timothy Mann, head of IT at Skandia said, "We were looking at Exchange 2000. But our Microsoft account manager advised us to go with Exchange 2003 instead." Mann saw the opportunity to deploy Exchange 2003 early through Rac as a way to strengthen Skandia's relationship with Microsoft.
The initial rollout has taken 17 weeks so far, and covers 210 users (about 10% of the workforce). Mann said moving to a supported product was essential and that he expected to see savings coming from the migration through server consolidation.
"We are currently running about 15 Exchange servers. I hope to get this figure down to around two to three on Exchange 2003," he said.
Rather than rely on staff at Skandia's nine regional offices to backup their own Exchange servers, as happens with Exchange 5.5, the consolidation would allow backups to be handled centrally, which will improve reliability of backups, said Mann.
Early users of the latest version of Exchange, included senior management who tend to spend considerable time accessing e-mail via a laptop connected over a 56KBps connection. Other users in the first wave of deployment are based in Skandia's Southampton head office.
Mann said his main concern during the initial migration was that users could revert back to Exchange 5.5 if problems emerged.
Microsoft has added a number of performance tweaks to Exchange 2003, to support users such as those at Skandia who access email from a dial-up modem connection.
Where possible, Outlook 2003 uses the local Exchange mailbox data file stored on the users' laptop computer. This reduces the number of requests to the server.
According to Microsoft this new functionality eliminates the need to inform users of delays when requesting information from Exchange servers. Microsoft also offers data compression on Exchange 2003 to reduce the amount of information that is sent by the Outlook 2003 client.
Mann said that improvements to caching - where e-mail messages are stored in locally on a laptop - would improve the usability of Exchange for laptop users. Skandia is looking to migrate the rest of the company during 2004.
Mann has also started looking at how the Orange SPV smart phone could be used as a laptop alternative.
"SPV users would be able to synchronise their outlook inboxes over a GPRS mobile network," he said. The Orange SPV runs Microsoft's Windows Smart phone operating system.