St. Clair goes back to school with Exchange 2007

A community college with four campuses across southern Ontario has started the new school year by ensuring each of its 21,000 students will have access to Web-based e-mail from the time they start until they graduate.

St. Clair College on Tuesday said it had successfully deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 by running each of the five components on an individual PowerEdge 2950 server from Dell Canada, which assisted in the migration.

For about the last 10 years, St. Clair College had been using the open source SendMail system to serve its messaging needs, but the school’s growth demanded something more powerful, said Amar Singh, the school’s IT manager.

“When it was put in place, there were a few hundred users. In the beginning, we didn’t always offer students e-mail if they weren’t specifically asking for it,” he said. “The systems just could not handle that load anymore.”

Singh cited price as a main driver towards Exchange 2007, along with the fact that, as a predominantly Microsoft shop, the training curve would be minimal. The phased approach began with a pilot project of about 50 users for two weeks. After that, the system was slowly rolled out to the rest of the faculty and students week by week.

“We wanted to go Web Access completely, but there were a couple of issues,” he said. This included the fact that Outlook Web Access (OWA) doesn’t allow users to create distribution lists, which is critical for faculty who use them to communicate course information to students, he said. Instead, students get OWA and faculty continue to have client installations.

“We had an antiquated system. It took forever to load the pages, to get a message, and it was difficult to scroll back and forth,” he said.

Kevin Smith, an executive with Dell Canada, said the five-server setup was necessary to ensure St. Clair College is prepared for further expansion.

“Exchange 2007 is one of those applications which tends to be very processor and I/O-heavy and still requires bigger boxes,” he said. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how many mailboxes they have, the profile of the user, different features in Exchange that they’re going to require. Then you know what architecture will need to be.”

Dell has learned that there are important differences in the way the disk I/O interacts with Exchange 2007, Smith said. For example, it requires fewer spindles than Exchange 2003.

“In the end that results in a slightly lower architecture costs from the customer,” he said.

Like many organizations, St. Clair College used mostly 32-bit hardware, and the Dell machines will be bringing in 64-bit capabilities.

“That in itself is a changing piece that came with the Exchange rollout,” Smith said, adding that he’s waiting to see other applications that would take advantage of that technology. “So far Exchange is the only one we have.”

Smith said Dell has performed about five million Exchange projects worldwide.

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