Case Study: Enterprise-wide messaging solutions from InterConnect

The Electric Mail Company delivers an enterprise-wide messaging solution for an international resort developer utilising...

The Electric Mail Company delivers an enterprise-wide messaging solution for an international resort developer utilising Microsoft exchange

Intrawest Corporation, an international company, owns resorts in Canada and the US as well as a percentage of the European-based Compagnie des Alpes.

In the past year alone, Intrawest's network of resorts hosted 5.5 million skiers and snowboarders while their corporate network hosted 250,000 to 300,000 email messages. Faced with an acquisition/development-driven business and significant remote administration requirements, the company required a flexible and cost-effective enterprise-wide messaging solution.

"Intrawest's philosophy, from a network point of view, was to work with the new acquisitions and the systems already in place," explained Vladimir Svetlovsky, Intrawest's network manager. "We required a messaging solution flexible enough to adapt to our growing network infrastructure. Instead of dictating enterprise-wide standards, we wanted to work with what was already there and gradually evolve it into an enterprise-wide architecture.

Enterprise-wide messaging

As early as 1994, a key part of Intrawest's IT strategy was to outsource their LAN-to-Internet email connectivity to support them through their growth. "We chose to outsource our messaging solution because it was the most cost-effective and adaptable option," added Svetlovsky. "We simply didn't have the expertise locally and the time internally to support an SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) gateway and all the remote administration tied to email."

Fuelled by a growing infrastructure and increasing demands for Internet email delivery, Intrawest installed the Electric InterConnect (EIC) service from the Electric Mail Company. The Electric InterConnect backbone resides on the other side of Intrawest's shared proxy server where a special port has been opened for email traffic to travel through the company's two-channel ISDN pipe.

Electric InterConnect is hosted on a dedicated Windows NT server at Intrawest's site where it collects and queues messages from the company's LAN post office. At scheduled intervals determined by Intrawest, EIC connects with the global Electric Mail distribution hub, via a local dialup connection, and authenticates the mail transfer request with ID and password. The queued messages are then sent to the distribution hub and routed to the Internet via a high-speed link.

"Four years ago, we started with three networks connected through our WAN and now we're at 25 LANs, with another five sites being implemented by the end of this year," detailed Svetlovsky. "Electric InterConnect provided us with the robust Internet email connectivity solution that we required to support our growing infrastructure of 700 to 800 Internet email users. The EIC service is an excellent alternative to purchasing, installing and managing the demands of a complex SMTP gateway."

Crucial to Intrawest's IT strategy, the Electric InterConnect backbone provided a universal bridge to Internet email users outside their network. The technology also provided seamless interoperability amongst the LAN email systems of newly acquired resorts and the existing Intrawest network. "As we were acquiring resorts through the years, we realised that most of the locations didn't have email at all or were already Microsoft-based using MS Mail for email or WorkGroup post offices," explained Svetlovsky. "The flexibility of Electric InterConnect supporting all of the leading LAN messaging systems has enabled instant Internet email connectivity for our new locations. This interoperability facilitates a smooth migration to Microsoft Exchange servers from our existing platform of MS Mail 3.5."

Exploiting compression technology and a robust transport protocol, Electric InterConnect effectively minimised the bandwidth requirements of the Intrawest connection. "When we first set up Internet email, we started at a 9600bit/s dial-up connection, then we moved to 28.8, and now we're at 128K. This set-up has proven to be a very efficient and secure way of transferring Internet email as it is a constant delivery situation where the system checks every five minutes for incoming and outbound mail," said Svetlovsky.

Remote administration

In addition to LAN-to-Internet connectivity, Intrawest's rapid growth and geographically dispersed business required a tool for remote email management. With 2,500 full time employees and over 8,000 seasonal employees all in different locations, the company had a tremendous volume of email addressing requests to execute. The ability to control mail routing, aliasing and to customise email forwarding became necessary in order to accommodate travelling executives and overall staff growth.

"We create and manage all the virtual post offices through the Web utilising Electric Mail Company's administration interface, AKA (Also Known As)," explained Svetlovsky. "The Web accessibility of the interface enables me to be at any of the Intrawest resorts and work no differently from the way I would at my own desk. Most of my administration requests are email-based, which is ideal when I'm travelling to different locations. Through a local dial-up, I can check my mail and access the AKA interface to execute any requests for addressing changes. Addressing requests are easy, I just copy and paste the requested email address or routing change into the virtual office template of AKA. Within seconds, the person is set up and a response is going back to the LAN administrator giving the go ahead."

The generic addressing functionality of the AKA interface has also proven invaluable to the information exchange of a large website and Intrawest's corporate intranet. "Thanks to the tools provided by the AKA interface, we have forms that website visitors can fill out and send to various contacts predefined within the company," said Svetlovsky. "Since we don't like posting the names of people as the contacts, the generic addressing capability (info@intrawest.com or reservations@blackcomb.com) is really handy. The generic aliasing saves us a great deal of time and energy because changes are never required to the HTML of the website ( you can just switch the routing underneath to direct the inquiry to the right desktop.

"For us, it was more cost-effective and flexible to rely on outside experts to provide our enterprise messaging solution," concluded Svetlovsky. "The technology infrastructure of Intrawest supports 800 to 900 messages per day being transferred through corporate headquarters in Vancouver. If you add, on top of that, the 300 to 600 Internet messages received daily, it's safe to say that we would require at least two people focused on managing the gateway, the hardware and software required in order to achieve the same reliability and security that we receive from the technologies offered by The Electric Mail Co."

Compiled by Will Garside

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