The University of Gothenburg has some 7,000 active email users on its staff and 15,000 accounts in total. The university had established a long-term plan to migrate their on-premise Exchange servers to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 email service, in connection with a broader transition to the O365 platform. This change was motivated by the need for a modernised and more reliable environment, and to get access to new productivity apps including Teams for communication. The updated security features that come with Office 365 were also compelling.
The University of Gothenburg, just as many other Swedish public institutions with similar plans, had to overcome serious obstacles on the way to using cloud services for some of their most important IT functions. After thorough review by legal expertise, the university was cleared, with minor restrictions, to roll out Office 365 to its 6,500 employees during 2021.
People usually think of email as a way to communicate and not a place to save important data. However, experience shows that it is common for users to treat their personal inbox as a storage space for work documents as well. At the University of Gothenburg, there are plenty of users who have very large email folders. That is hardly an admin’s dream, but rather a consequence of academic freedom.
– By principle, we never delete emails, that is the reality we must relate to. There will be very large volumes, but we have no daily issues with the size of email folders. For very large file transfers, we recommend other tools, says Magnus Norling, IT infrastructure specialist at the University of Gothenburg.
The University of Gothenburg had planned for a gradual migration of staff email to the cloud, beginning in first quarter of 2020, but this task was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And in September, before migration had commenced, the university’s email servers suffered a major outage that initially affected all employees. This malfunction was caused by multiple interacting factors, including a notorious bug in disk drive control middleware.
The email incident also shed light on backup, and specifically the need for a reliable and efficient solution to recover data and recreate email history. In many cases, restoring individual email accounts involved manual, time-consuming labor. This experience became a cautionary tale for Magnus Norling and his colleague Jani Gröndahl, who also work with the university’s IT infrastructure.
Software was the key element in Proact’s proposal, recommending Commvault’s platform for data protection and backup. This met the functional requirements, with the added advantage that it allowed the university to use its existing object storage solution (NetApp StorageGrid) for Office 365 backups. The university has used various NetApp systems for more than a decade (with hardware and support services provided by Proact) and these had no role in the previous email issues.
”It has worked well for us. Although NetApp doesn’t come at the lowest price, we are very satisfied with its reliability,” says Magnus Norling. The integrated backup function that the university already uses for data stored in the NetApp systems is adequate, but limited to that environment. The Commvault solution adds public cloud support, protecting data in the cloud, enabling migration of data from the cloud to the on-premise environment (as in the case of mail backup), or the other way around. From the admin point of view, data is basically managed in the same fashion regardless of where it’s stored.
The university’s new email backup function came with only minor requirements for new hardware: two servers (called media agents in Commvault language) which take care of the backup data management workload, including deduplication and compression. Another plus is that Commvault offers broad backup functionality, in addition to email which was the university’s primary need. According to Jani Gröndahl and Magnus Norling, it is viable to expand the use to cover other systems and applications: – We are talking about backing up SharePoint using Commvault. We also see the opportunity to use it for database backup, which is currently handled in a different way.
The University of Gothenburg is one of the largest universities in the Nordic countries. It has eight faculties, 49,000 students, of which just over 27,000 are full-time students, and 6,400 staff members.
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