Homebuilder Gets a Handle on E-Mail

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Driven by explosive growth of its e-mail stores and regulatory compliance and e-discovery demands, Brookfield Homes Southland (BHS), a division of Brookfield Homes, turned to Mimosa Systems for an e-mail archiving solution.

With no limits set on user e-mail, employees at one of the country’s largest homebuilding companies were sending e-mails that contained computer-aided design (CAD) files, voice mail, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and standard communications that ranged from 1GB to as much as 9GB.

Today, using Mimosa NearPoint for Microsoft Exchange Server, BHS has met its compliance requirements, lightened the load on its Exchange server and improved system performance.

Located in Costa Mesa, Calif., one of five markets in which $148 million Brookfield Homes operates, BHS knew it was time to address e-mail archiving, so it turned to solution provider VL Systems of Irvine, Calif.

Time to Act

The reasons to explore e-mail archiving were piling up fast at BHS. Aside from state and federal requirements for e-mail retention and company internal controls that required all e-mail to be saved for seven years, performance on the division’s Exchange server had all but slowed to a crawl. BHS has 165 mailboxes on its Exchange Server 2003, which manages about 250GB of e-mail. Another issue facing the company was that daily back-ups were beginning to exceed the backup window.

BHS also used Microsoft Exchange Server Load Simulation Tool. “We got to a point where we weren’t able to run it. That’s when we knew it was time to do something,” said Chris Formes, IT manager at BHS. The tool was designed to provide a realistic load on a Microsoft Exchange Server by simulating the behavior of multiple Exchange clients.

After putting out a request for proposals (RFP), the division nailed down promising e-mail archiving solutions from two vendors: NearPoint from Mimosa Systems and Enterprise Vault from Symantec.

Formes visited two channel partners who helped his department understand the features, benefits and costs of each vendor’s solution. “I was leaning towards Symantec’s Enterprise Vault because the company had been around for a long time and had substantial market share,” he said.

Mimosa, on the other hand, was a young company. However, there were two aspects of Mimosa’s NearPoint product that made it stand out, according to Formes. The first was a data capture feature called continuous application shadowing.

According to Mimosa, continuous application shadowing captures Exchange log files the instant they’re committed to disk and stores them “off-host” on NearPoint. Application shadowing is a method of database replication for Exchange that is also referred to as log shipping. Additionally, e-mail content extracted from the Exchange log files is indexed and stored with single-instance storage, or de-duplication. Application shadowing captures complete Exchange mailbox information as well as e-mail stored offline in PST files and all e-mail content found in public folders.

The second key feature of the Mimosa product was that deploying NearPoint didn’t require installing software agents on the Exchange Server or clients. Also, the product was very user-friendly, offering a self-service access feature that gives users access to e-mail that’s been archived via Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Web Access.

“My technicians never had to touch the user’s desktops, and user training only requires a two-page tutorial,” said Formes.

In November 2006, BHS did a full on-site pilot of the NearPoint solution. The IT team loaded production data onto a system configured by the systems integrator. While the pilot demonstrated to BHS that NearPoint for Microsoft Exchange would meet the organization’s criteria for e-mail archiving and compliance, the NearPoint server that they used for the test was undersized and got hammered in the process.

The original server was a dual Xeon 2.4 with 2GB of RAM. That configuration was changed when BHS put the system into production. The production server is a Dell dual Xeon 3.0 with 4GB of RAM, which Formes said could stand to be a fit beefier.

Moving Forward

Given that November and December are extremely busy months for the homebuilding company, BHS waited until February 2007 to roll out the NearPoint solution. Working with VL Systems, Formes had the channel partner install Mimosa NearPoint on the Dell Server and EqualLogic storage arrays. Installation took less than a day.

Formes’ IT team, which worked closely with its solution provider during the testing and installation, did the production rollout. “We applied the policies that we set up, and three days later mail storage was simpler,” said Formes.

To date, Mimosa NearPoint has provided BHS a solution for its myriad of e-mail problems.

For compliance, NearPoint captures Exchange data, preserving the context of users’ mailboxes and public folders based on retention policies set by BHA. The NearPoint archive is indexed and searchable.

The solution also offers recovery of complete Exchange databases, mailboxes and individual messages. This allowed Formes to turn off brick-level backups and instead rely on NearPoint for mailbox restoration.

Additionally, NearPoint allowed BHS to reduce the amount of e-mail storage on the Exchange Server, reducing the amount of time it was taking for daily backups.

Today, BHS houses its Exchange Server on a Dell 6600. The company, however, is in the process installing VMware for server consolidation and system flexibility. Still ahead is the task of migrating Mimosa NearPoint to the new VMware environment.

The home building company expects to turn to Mimosa’s technicians as the process gets underway.

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Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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