The regional newspaper publisher is following the growing trend of using virtualisation technology to reduce the cost of building and maintaining expensive software test environments before implementing a major project.
Northcliffe used the VMware virtualisation server to build a scaled model of its legacy Exchange 5.5 e-mail system, which supports more than 4,500 full-time staff in 32 centres, to identify potential problems with the upgrade.
Bola Rotibi, principal analyst at Ovum, said that virtualisation was the next logical step in testing, as the technology becomes more viable. "It makes more sense economically to use virtualisation. Virtualising the test environment allows users to run what-if scenarios much more cost-effectively," she said.
Kieran Head, project manager at Northcliffe Media, said the scale model running in VMware allowed the IT team to run a proof of concept project to test how to conduct a roll-out.
The company also installed a Zantaz e-mail archiving system in the virtual model to check how it integrated with Microsoft Exchange. Zantaz allows Northcliffe to compress 650Gbytes of e-mail data by 50%.
The proof of concept project highlighted one problem area, said Head. "One site had already upgraded to Exchange 2003, and we found in our tests that we will need to roll this site back to Exchange 5.5 in order to integrate it with our Windows infrastructure," he said.
Head is planning to begin Northcliffe's Exchange migration this week, starting with the problem site. The project is expected to be completed by March 2008.