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Global Consulting Firm Gives Employees Reliable, Around-the-Clock Email Access

Dar Al-Handasah is an international project design, management, and consulting group with headquarters in Egypt, England, India, and Lebanon. To support its critical Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 environment, Dar Al-Handasah deployed BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager, which ensures zero system downtime and gives employees reliable access to their email from anywhere.

Business Challenges

 

Dar Al-Handasah, a leading international consultancy, plans, designs, and implements development projects in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia for governments, international banks, and other large institutions. Dar Al-Handasah specializes in engineering, architecture, planning, environment, project management, and economics. It has served more than 950 clients in 63 countries.

The company’s 6,300 employees, who work in 45 offices spread across 29 countries, depend heavily on the company’s Microsoft Exchange Server email system to communicate with each other and with clients. Many Dar Al-Handasah consultants create and share large email files—each up to 50 MB—that include computer-aided drafting (CAD) renderings for clients. “Email is our primary means of communicating, and it is absolutely essential to our business,” says Mahmoud Amin, IT Manager at Dar Al-Handasah.

Due to the critical nature of email within the company, system downtime is not an option. “Exchange Server is the number one product we need to support. We have people traveling all over the world, using different devices in different time zones, and they need fast, reliable access to their email,” Amin says. “They need to be able to connect from wherever they are, and we must give them the same experience they have in the office. So reliability and performance are key. And even if we have a scheduled shutdown of some services in the data center, we must keep Exchange up and running.”

“Between the iHealth service, the online discussion forum, and the personal support, F5 has us covered.” Mahmoud Amin, IT Manager, Dar Al-Handasah

Solution

 

For Dar Al-Handasah, ensuring high availability for Exchange was especially important in late 2012, as the firm prepared to participate in the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP) for Exchange Server 2013, a program for early adopters of the technology. Before participating in the TAP, the organization wanted to find a network optimization solution to support Exchange Server 2013. “Whenever I approached vendors about technologies, F5 Networks always came up in conversation,” says Amin. “And the more I researched, the more I realized F5 is the top technology in terms of traffic management for Exchange Server.”

Dar Al-Handasah soon learned that F5 was involved in the Exchange Server 2013 TAP, as one of Microsoft’s chosen technology partners. “F5 is considered the Rolls Royce of network optimization technology, and seeing that F5 was a trusted Microsoft partner for Exchange Server really confirmed our decision,” remarks Amin.

In addition to choosing F5 for its technology, Dar Al-Handasah was impressed with F5's comprehensive services and support, including iApps configuration templates, the iHealth diagnostic tool, and the DevCentral online technical user community. After completing the TAP, Dar Al-Handasah began migrating more than 1,500 user mailboxes to Exchange Server 2013. The firm deployed two BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) devices, configuring them as a redundant pair to provide for high availability and network failover.

“F5 BIG-IP LTM has worked from day one and continues to work reliably. As long as this solution is in place, we have nothing to worry about.” Mahmoud Amin, IT Manager, Dar Al-Handasah

Benefits

 

With BIG-IP LTM, Dar Al-Handasah can ensure the highest availability and performance for its new Exchange Server 2013 system, so employees can reliably access email and communicate effectively with customers. Additionally, the company’s IT staff can easily manage and configure the Exchange environment without affecting users, and the firm receives strong technical support from F5. The organization can also take advantage of the BIG-IP platform’s scalability to support growth and application delivery needs in the future.

Ensures zero downtime and gives employees reliable email access

With BIG-IP LTM, Dar Al-Handasah now directs all email traffic to its Client Access Servers. This ensures the highest availability for the company’s Exchange Server 2013 environment. “Since we deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 with BIG-IP LTM, our system has been 100 percent reliable,” says Amin. “Even if one of the data centers was shut down, the solution would direct traffic to the other site. The failover capabilities give me peace of mind.”

As a result, Dar Al-Handasah can guarantee its employees across the globe always have access to their email. “With BIG-IP LTM in front of our Exchange Server 2013 environment, we have a very redundant and stable system that gives our users anytime, anywhere access to their email. We’re confident that we won’t lose service, and that our people can always communicate with each other and with our customers,” says Amin.

Delivers strong network performance and system security

BIG-IP LTM is also contributing to strong system performance because it employs caching and TCP connection optimization, in addition to load balancing. “We have never had performance issues with our Exchange environment, and that’s because BIG-IP LTM distributes the network load and makes sure the best available resources are always used. It also gives us application health monitoring capabilities so we can precisely monitor bandwidth,” Amin says.

The solution also helps the organization protect its Exchange Server 2013 infrastructure through the use of native firewall services and client and server authentication. “Exchange Server 2013 is already secure, and with BIG-IP LTM, security is even stronger,” says Amin.

Enables easy management and configuration without affecting users

Dar Al-Handasah is using F5 iApps, as well as the built-in BIG-IP LTM user interface, to easily configure and update the company’s Exchange Server 2013 environment. For instance, the company used iApps templates as the interface for creating, managing, and monitoring the Exchange Server 2013 Client Access role.

“When we first started looking at BIG-IP LTM, I was concerned that it would be difficult to configure,” says Amin. “But now that I’ve worked with it, it has proven to be much easier than I expected. For example, upgrading the Client Access Server array is very simple and fast using the BIG-IP LTM interface.”

And with iApps, Amin is able to ensure that the best configurations are in place for the solution. “The F5 iApps features are very powerful and save me a lot of time and effort in terms of IT management,” he says. “The iApps templates explain very clearly how configuration changes are impacting Exchange Server. iApps is definitely something that differentiates the BIG-IP LTM solution from other vendors’ solutions.”

With simplified management capabilities, Amin can perform system maintenance with no impact to employees. “Because management and configuration is so simple with BIG-IP LTM, I can do system updates and upgrades without any impact at all to our end users,” he states. “So they still have the same great performance and they can still do their work while I’m maintaining the system.”

Offers fast resolution to system issues

The organization is also benefiting from a strong technology support system that includes traditional support services, the online F5 DevCentral discussion site, and the F5 BIG-IP iHealth feature. BIG-IP iHealth is an F5-hosted diagnostic tool that parses real-time snapshots of BIG-IP systems, enabling the administrator to maintain peak system performance. The technology evaluates BIG-IP logs, command output, and configuration against a database of known problems, mistakes, and F5 best practices, and offers recommendations for problem resolution.

Using iHealth, Amin can receive quick feedback on his system configurations. “F5 iHealth is a totally automated, secure site where I can simply upload my configuration. Within minutes it’s been analyzed and sent back, so I can see almost immediately if I’m running the best setup for Exchange Server and BIG-IP LTM,” says Amin. ”With other vendors, it would take a day or two to get those results.”

iHealth, combined with traditional F5 support and BIG-IP LTM, offers Dar Al-Handasah a complete solution. “With F5, you get an entire solution: services bundled with support and technology,” continues Amin. “Between the iHealth service, the online discussion forum, and the personal support, F5 has us covered. It’s almost like we have an F5 technical expert here on our staff. It couldn’t be better.”

Equips Dar Al-Handasah for future growth

“Scaling our Exchange system is very easy with BIG-IP LTM because it is built to automatically handle any changes we make,” Amin says. “If we add more Exchange Client Access Servers, for example, we don’t have to make any configuration changes; the F5 devices automatically recognize them and they just start working."

Amin is confident that F5 technology will continue to provide stability and reliability while the company grows. “F5 BIG-IP LTM has worked from day one and continues to work reliably. As long as this solution is in place, we have nothing to worry about,” says Amin. “We are planning to use F5 with our current Microsoft Lync and Microsoft SharePoint implementations. F5 has enough capacity to support both technologies along with Exchange without any performance degradation.”