Exchange server downtime barely a blip, thanks to email continuity app

A low-cost appliance offers a midmarket insurance firm simple and affordable continuity for Microsoft Exchange.

When New York-based C.V. Starr & Co. severed ties with insurance giant American International Group Inc. (AIG) in February 2006, the small collection of insurance companies was just a startup.

The 600-person insurance and investment company had relied on the large-enterprise IT resources of AIG for years. Suddenly, C.V. Starr needed to get lean, light and flexible, according to John Harte, director of IT operations. One basic step was to find an affordable and agile email continuity technology for the company's Microsoft Exchange servers.

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"When we split off from AIG, we were in such a fast-growth initiative that we had no traditional failure situation for email," Harte said. "If email went down, it was down until either the backup tapes went up or it was repaired."

Harte said the company considered Microsoft Exchange server clustering and redundant servers, but both options were too expensive for the midsized company.

"We had one hiccup on a server in the server room," Harte said. "We had some construction going on and we didn't have very good environmental controls. [The server] was covered in dust. We had to shift Exchange to a new piece of equipment. It wasn't too bad. It was down four or five hours. That's not too bad. But when you're dealing with the executives at our company, any outage is too much. That kind of really drove home what we really wanted to do. The money to do it got freed up pretty quickly after that."

Turning to Teneros

With clustering and redundancy too expensive, Harte decided to pilot an email continuity appliance from Teneros Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based vendor that focuses on email continuity for midsized companies.

"We started by running it with our executive email server," Harte said. "It worked like a champ. For us, it was more of a maintenance issues because we could never have downtime. Our executives, we never know when they're going to check their email. They check it through their BlackBerrys. They say they can never have downtime."

Harte is now running eight Teneros appliances, with two providing Exchange continuity in his New York data center, along with a box each in his London and Hong Kong offices. Each continuity appliance has a second disaster recovery box associated with it remotely.

Harte declined to specify how much his email continuity investment with Teneros has cost him, but he said he's spending in the tens of thousands of dollars, instead of the hundreds of thousands, as he would be spending with a server clustering setup.

The Teneros Application Continuity Appliance replicates an ongoing object-level backup of the Exchange server. When the appliance detects a failure on the Microsoft Exchange server, it performs a failover and begins to serve end users with almost no interruption. Harte said end users detect no interruption to service on their PCs.

"Its basically like running a backup Exchange server," said Michael Osterman, president and senior analyst at Osterman Research Inc. in Black Diamond, Wash. "This simply replicates the content of your Exchange server. You wouldn't replicate all of it. Maybe the last 30 days. Set these appliances up one-for-one with your Exchange servers. If there's a glitch, you simply fail over to the Teneros box."

Osterman said the Teneros box is probably the least expensive continuity product available to midsized companies. He said other vendors, such as Double-Take Software Inc. and Semaphore Systems Ltd., offer nice products that can have email back up and running within 10 minutes. But those solutions are more granular, replicating individual users. Teneros allows a firm to offer email continuity to an entire company.

Osterman said an organization could run email indefinitely on a Teneros appliance.

"But it's not something you would want to do. If you're now running off a Teneros box, then that means the Exchange server is down. So now you don't have any backup."

An eye toward the future

Teneros CEO Steve Lewis said his company is looking to dive deeper into the midmarket messaging continuity market. Last month the company announced that it was slashing the price on its entry-level 100-mailbox appliance from $14,000 to $7,000.

In the first quarter of 2008 Teneros is also launching the "V"elocity series of its appliances, which uses virtualization technology to expand the appliance's continuity protection to what it calls the Exchange "ecosystem." It uses a 64-bit virtual machine architecture to expand continuity protection to BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) and Active Directory. Lewis said his company's ultimate goal is to provide continuity for all of the messaging needs of a midmarket firm.

Harte said he's interested in connecting his company's BES to Teneros because C.V. Starr can't afford to run a redundant BES for continuity. He currently uses disk-based backups for his BES. It takes a bare metal backup every two or three days.

"If we ever did crash we couldn't recover quickly," Harte said. "Just to restore from backup would take up to one or two hours. That's what we rely on now. Almost half our people have BlackBerrys. It's a hard-working application. I'd feel a lot better if we had a hot standby."

Harte said his organization performs maintenance on the BES every two to three weeks on Sunday nights, "which is tough for my guys."

Osterman said virtualization technology is the logical next step for this market.

"It makes it much easier to manage things," Osterman said. "You don't have to have separate hardware components for each server. It's very easy to handle, plus everything is so much cheaper when running in a virtual machine."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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