Whittles Solicitors guards vital email communications from downtime with SteelEye LifeKeeper for Exchange

Palo Alto, 26th July 2005 Whittles Solicitors, a multiple site legal practice, has deployed SteelEye Technology’s LifeKeeper for Exchange to provide the highest level of contingency in the event of email communications failure. The installation, carried out by IT Professional Services, provides Whittles with an integrated local area network failover for business continuity and a wide area network disaster recovery defence located in another geographical location over a low bandwidth connection.

Whittles Solicitors is a highly regarded legal practice, providing expert counsel in Trade Union and Employment Law. It has practices located in Manchester, Leeds, Sutton Coldfield and Newcastle-upon-Tyne which specialise in different aspects of the law and have historically operated as individual units.

Whittles recently reviewed its IT infrastructure with focus on building resilience within the network. IT Professional Services (IT-PS) was asked to present a technical and informative proposal outlining a way forward. After careful consideration, IT-PS was appointed to design a network that allowed the practices to communicate in real time and share the workload. IT-PS devised a multi-site network to link the separate IT systems in Manchester and Leeds. This enabled each practice to run its own system and allow its users to gain access to the other site. The staff in Newcastle and Sutton Coldfield use both systems via remote log in.

The business requirement
The project objective was to allow all users access to data from any office when based at any location. The use of real time access facilitates workloads to be shared throughout the organisation, offering an immediate increase in productivity. Further enhancing the project, IT-PS added a business continuity and disaster recovery element to protect the heart of the business which had previously been exposed by a fire in Manchester effecting communication links throughout the UK. Whittles depends on Microsoft® Exchange® for its email communication, a critical part of its operations, as email allows legal teams to communicate during negotiations and transfer legal documents.

“The loss of email would severely impede our ability to operate, as we recently discovered. Being a legal practice, communication is key to our day-to-day operation. Even an hour’s downtime at the wrong moment has a serious impact and results in diminished client satisfaction,” remarked David Towler, joint managing partner at Whittles Solicitors. “In the past we’ve experienced an Exchange server going down for a number of days, resulting in our offices not being able to communicate with each other. It caused a major headache at the time, and is not something we want to repeat.”

IT-PS configured a highly resilient 3-node “stretch’ cluster of servers to protect the Exchange application and data. A “stretch’ cluster is between two geographically separate locations where data replication and application failover combine over a wide area network (WAN) connection. IT-PS were able to use the existing infrastructure to deliver an inter-site communications network, minimising the overall cost of implementation. Whittles has two nodes in one site to provide server failure protection and disaster recovery within the local area network (LAN). The third node is at a second, separate location to provide business continuity resilience in the event of a full site outage.

“The solution delivered had to meet the identified business objectives and present business benefits whilst meeting DR and BC requirements,” said Garry Sheriff, managing director of IT-PS. “That means avoiding downtime and protecting data with a combination of high availability and long distance replication. The network upgrade project created the perfect opportunity to enhance business continuity and disaster recovery.”

The solution
Focused on high availability and resilience, IT-PS chose SteelEye LifeKeeper as the vital component to provide clustered and data replication solutions. The marketplace offers a wide variety of alternative products and IT-PS has tested and installed a number of these. However, LifeKeeper from SteelEye Technology stood out as an exceptional clustering solution for high availability protection of Exchange and proved to work in a three node stretch cluster scenario.

LifeKeeper for Exchange performs an automatic recovery procedure on detection of any problem with the application, providing uninterrupted data access. It offers shared-nothing clustering, combining data replication and high availability. LifeKeeper’s cluster technology ensures that applications and servers are operational as it performs failover from one server to the other. Its data replication software handles real time mirroring of data needed by the application, which ensures availability of the data no matter which server the application is running on. The data replication can occur across a LAN or WAN depending on the business requirements dictating where the servers in the cluster are located.

The implementation
Whittles’ email Exchange server is located in the Manchester practice, with an onsite backup server and a separate mirrored server located 40 miles away, in Leeds. All the branch offices connect to the Exchange application for communications and LifeKeeper ensures that email data is continually available to them.

To maintain real time communication between the four branch offices, IT-PS made sure the new network had fixed lines and IP VPN virtual links. A lot of thought was put in to what type of connections to use. Previous advice given to Whittles suggested that they would need 10mb bandwidth to allow for the large amount of data generated by Exchange as well as the other business applications. However, IT-PS stated that through efficient design of the network and after demonstrating LifeKeeper, data communications could work over a narrower bandwidth. The Manchester and Leeds systems now run on 2mb leased lines, allowing IT-PS to make significant cost savings for Whittles.

The benefits
David Towler concluded, “The whole upgrade has allowed the organisation to realise a number of business benefits, our staff to work more closely together, and with the protection of email, LifeKeeper has enabled us to deliver a higher level of service to our clients.”

John Banfield, EMEA director for SteelEye Technology, Inc., commented “Email is nearly always the top priority application that is critical to keep a business running. Failure to keep an email application up and available can impact a business’ credibility – the perceived ability to maintain availability of services is diminished. Applications such as Exchange generate a surprising volume of data and data replication can quickly soak up bandwidth. LifeKeeper is a cost effective tool for Exchange users looking to achieve continual access to email.”

“LifeKeeper is the only high availability cluster solution in the market today to offer Exchange users integrated LAN failover with WAN disaster recovery protection located in another geographical location over a low bandwidth connection,” observed Garry Sheriff. “It has allowed us to offer Whittles the highest level of contingency for Exchange. LifeKeeper is an integral part of our product portfolio in this arena, its advanced approach to Exchange ensures we can offer our clients solutions that deliver technical confidence and address real business needs.”

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