With mainstream support for Exchange 5.5 due to expire at the end of this year, Skandia skipped the 2000 release and joined Microsoft's Rapid Adoption Customer programme to deploy Exchange 2003.
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 Rapid Adoption as a way to strengthen Skandia's relationship with Microsoft.
The initial roll-out took 17 weeks and covered 210 users. Mann said he expects to see savings arising from server consolidation promised in the new release of Exchange. "We are running 15 Exchange servers. I hope to get this figure down to about two or three on Exchange 2003," he said.
Rather than rely on staff at Skandia's nine regional offices to back up Exchange 5.5 server, Mann said the consolidation would allow back-ups to be handled centrally, improving reliability.
When selecting users to put on to the latest version of Exchange, Mann's main concern was that people should be able to revert to Exchange 5.5 if the migration failed. He selected users who had most to gain - senior management, who tend to spend a lot of time accessing e-mail via laptops connected via a 56kbps connection, and users in the Skandia head office in Southampton.
Microsoft has added a number of tweaks to Exchange 2003 to support users like those at Skandia who access e-mail from a dial-up modem connection.
Where possible, Outlook 2003 uses the local Exchange mailbox data file stored on the user's laptop, reducing the number of requests to the server. Microsoft said this eliminates the need to inform users of delays when requesting information from Exchange servers.
To reduce the amount of information that is sent between the Outlook 2003 client and Exchange 2003 Microsoft now offers data compression on Exchange 2003.
Mann said enhancements to caching would improve the usability of Exchange for laptop users, which was important given the seniority of the end-users. "It would be bad if the chairman could not dial into his e-mail," said Mann.
Skandia plans to migrate the rest of the company during 2004. Mann has also started looking at how the Orange SPV Microsoft-powered smartphone could be used as a laptop alternative. He said, "SPV users would be able to synchronise their Outlook inboxes over a GPRS mobile network."