New E-Mail System--Meeting the Needs of Students and Faculty

The halls of academia depend on fast-flowing, unencumbered, virus-free e-mail. You practically can’t get through school without it. In fact, at least one survey shows that 93 percent of American college students regularly use the Internet, making them the most connected segment of the population. And e-mail use is at least as popular as Web-surfing.

At California State University at Northridge (CSUN), a 353-acre campus in suburban Los Angeles, e-mail is an important facet of college life. CSUN serves 28,000 students and a faculty and staff of more than 3,300. Like so many other institutions, CSUN built its e-mail infrastructure a number of years ago.

The hardware and software of the old system were so antiquated that the system administrator had to reboot the system once or twice a day just to keep the application running, and mail delivery often took an hour or more. The poor service led some departments to deploy their own e-mail systems on campus.

The university realized it needed a new e-mail system, the requirements for which were clear: an integrated solution that could provide Web-based e-mail, calendaring, anti-virus software, content-filtering—all in one easy-to-use package.

In the fall of 2002, the school’s IT department decided to rebuild its enterprise mail system with the help of Mirapoint. As a result, today’s e-mail volume at CSUN—a peak capacity of two million messages a day—is a long way from much-slower SGI days.

Advance notice to students and university personnel came through the campus newspaper, e-mail announcements, and the university’s Tidbits announcement service, published by the University Support Services Group.

Under the new system, CSUN can flexibly configure Mirapoint's technology to fit their specific needs. When the anti-virus application is enabled, CSUN officials can expect delivery capacity to be approximately 500,000 messages per day. If anti-virus service is not needed, the system has the potential to support more than two million messages per day.

Using the new system’s class-of-service controls, administrators can easily define which services are to be provided to which particular users and domains. For example, class-of-service allow administrators to configure certain service packages for faculty and other packages for students.

CSUN’s new system is designed around services. Students, faculty, and staff can now take advantage of POP and IMAP e-mail. The system supports desktop clients such as Microsoft Outlook, offers Webmail and access from wireless PDAs, and has advanced collaborative features. The system is LDAPv3-compliant and iCal- and vCal-ready. These were important considerations in a university with some 5,000 desktop computers and an unknown—and proliferating—number of laptops, PDAs, integrated telephones, and tablet computers.

Downtime is no longer a problem at CSUN. The system has been up and running 99.99 percent of the time. Over the last year, the only time it was down was for the installation of anti-virus software.

The mail store is configured for 400GB mail storage and can be easily increased to handle even more. The system handles the widely varying mail needs of students and faculty members, some of whom are not university-based—such as vendors and alumni.

Helping to keep the system secure is a university-wide policy that requires users to change their password every 90 days. IT technicians have programmed the system to remind each and every user that they must update their profile by creating a new password ten days in advance of the date that they must make the change. The system continually reminds users, until the deadline arrives.

Even if earthquakes strike the area, data will be safe. CSUN’s failsafe system is about as good as it gets. Most servers in the university’s data center are connected to redundant power supplies. Backing that up are UPS’s—for uninterrupted power supplies—and backup generators. In the event of an electrical blackout, CSUN generators, powered by diesel engines, will last indefinitely.

Migration to the new system took place only ten days—in September of 2002. About 50,000 user accounts were migrated, and the old directory was cleaned up.

The new system’s speed is lightning fast. Normal mail delivery, if not instantaneous, takes no longer than two seconds—or if the server is very busy, perhaps 30 seconds. Complaints about slow-mail delivery are nonexistent.

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