Exchange 2003 aids ship-to-shore comms

Shipping management company Northern Marine Management has begun rolling out Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 to improve...

Shipping management company Northern Marine Management has begun rolling out Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 to improve ship-to-shore communications and avoid the need for managers to carry laptops.

Sharon McLaughlin, IT manager at Northern Marine Management, is replacing a £2,000 per client proprietary e-mail system with Outlook Web Access, the browser-based e-mail client on Exchange 2003. The list price of a Microsoft client access licence, required to run Outlook Web Access, is £40 per client.

The ability of Microsoft's product to run over low-bandwidth made the switch possible. "We can now run Outlook at 9kbps over a satellite link," said McLaughlin.

The system is used to relay safety information, log the people on board and send fuel usage data back to Northern Marine Management's head office in Clydebank, Scotland.

The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Stena, provides shipping operators such as ChevronTexaco, DFDS and BP Exploration with technical management, personnel, purchasing, vessel management, accounts and consultancy.

E-mail is a critical function of the business, enabling head office to keep in contact with vessels at sea.

The company is also providing e-mail access to business executives and ship managers via a pool of Hewlett-Packard iPaq handheld computers, which McLaughlin said could be configured for an end-user "in seconds".

Northern Marine Management used services company Capito to implement Exchange 2003. The roll-out involved replacing Windows NT4 server software with Windows 2003.

Having joined Microsoft's early access programme for Exchange 2003, Northern Marine Management created a lab environment which replicated the set-up it hoped to migrate. Testing took two and a half months. During this time McLaughlin said problems were highlighted, including a potential difficulty with backing up the e-mail software, which she was able to work around.

Another aspect of the project was finding a way to cope with the data generated at sea. The law requires shipping data to be stored for seven years. McLaughlin said this meant ship managers were keeping up to 3Gbytes of archived e-mail data and 1Gbyte of current e-mail data on the system.

To reduce the performance penalty and costs of keeping this data on the live Exchange server, McLaughlin next month plans to deploy a hierarchical storage management product, Commvault, which extracts archived e-mail from Exchange and loads it onto a Microsoft SQL Server database. From there the data can be backed-up onto lower-cost storage media, such as tape.

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