High Availability Groupware Cluster

Reliable Collaboration and E-Mail Solution Implemented at
German Food Services Company, Hofmann Menu-Manufaktur GmbH

Hofmann Menu-Manufaktur GmbH’s 1,200 employees prepare high
quality food for soup kitchens, hospitals and home health care providers in
Germany, Austria, France and other countries in the European Union.

Hofmann expects the same quality from its groupware system
that it provides its food service customers.  For its 400 end-users, “The IT infrastructure is the nervous system of the company.  Without it ever thing would
fall apart.”  said IT-Director, Christian Joehle. “About 40% of all purchase orders reach us via E-Mail. In addition, production, logistics and our automated warehouse would come to a standstill if it failed.  We could survive for a maximum of four hours without it and that window is getting shorter and shorter.”

Problem Definition

Hofmann needed a high performance groupware and email system.     “Many of the shared features of the previous groupware solution, Groupwise from Novell, were not longer working due to proliferation of different versions of Microsoft Outlook in our growing installed base of desktop and laptop computers.  Outlook is super important to our sales force, because our CRM system is based on it,” explained Christian Joehle about the dilemma he faced.

In addition, to a working groupware solution, Hofmann also wanted an e-mail system that offered high availability and protected users from outages.  The new system needed a tamper-proof email archive, replacing the old method of storing email on tape that could be easily manipulated. Moreover, the previously outsourced antivirus and antispam filter was to be brought inhouse and replaced by a tightly integrated, onsite software solution.  Finally, the old and slow firewall needed an upgrade, user administration improved through LDAP integration and new smartphones for the executives supported by the new solution.

 Solution

Shortly after Mr. Joehle and his colleagues discovered and contact Zarafa via the Internet, they were contacted by Mr. Scheuring from bitbone AG, a IT  ystems integrator and Platinum Zarafa Partner in Wuerzburg, Germany.  Mr. Scheuring set up a meeting at which he presented a  hardware and software solution that would meet Hofmann’s requirements.   “His presentation was very well received,” commented the attendees from the IT Department.

Initially, consideration was given to a hosted solution and three alternatives analyzed.   But in the end, Hofmann decided for an on-premise implementation because the IT Department was concerned that its internal network were too slow to handle external traffic during peak order intake windows.

“At the same time, we decided to go with Zarafa and engage bitbone as our system integrator.  We liked our level of technical access to Zarafa, trusted the expertise and availability of bitbone, and appreciate the convenience that bitbone was a local company.  That, together with the availability of remote access support gave us the security to move forward,”  explained Christian Johle.

“We then put Zarafa on a test-bed server and tested it thoroughly.  An experience that strengthened our conviction that we had made the right decision, ”  continued the IT –Director.

The concept that bitbone had proposed incorporated a high availability cluster consisting of the Zarafa groupware server, Mailspect’s Email Archive, Mailspect’s end-to-end email security platform, called Mailspect Defense, storage as we as bitbone’s own bitkit FRAMEWORK for user administration.    The cluster was based on virtualized servers running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux on two identical HP Xeon Quad Core servers.  The two boxes utilized RAID techniques to create identical and synchronized copies of the system.  In the event one box might fail, the other box would continue to run.

With respect to the smart phones for the executives, iPhones were selected, because they could be synchronized in real time with the groupware server using Z-Push.  The new firewall was a hardware appliance, the Astaro Security Gateway 320.

With the prospect of a primarily Open Source solution, Mr. Joehle was concerned.  “I had had experience with Open Source, and it wasn’t a bad experience.  The continuous license fees and upgrade practices in the proprietary world, on the other hand, especially viewed over a number of years, didn’t make me very happy.  They represented a large investment and constant pressure to upgrade.    Over time, they resulted in different versions proliferating through the IT infrastructure that led to complexity and weakened the system, because we didn’t have common system components.  As much as possible, all our
future IT investment will give preference to Open Source solutions.  We need to achieve independence from Microsoft.”

Once the hardware was installed at Hofmann at the beginning of October 2010 there began a three week migration to the new cluster.  After installing the software, bitbone began to migrate the user department-by-department to the Zarafa/Mailspect/bitkit cluster.  “Everything went smoothly.” related Mr. Joehle, “We didn’t experience any hiccups, and if something went wrong it was fixed quickly.  I thought the process would be much harder.”

Benefits

With the new system, Hofman and its 350 users were very happy.   “We made the right decision, which had the full support of the entire management team.”  The Zarafa groupware worked seamlessly with the various versions of Outlook being used by the direct sales force and on the new iPhones.   ”All the sharing
functionality in the groupware are now working with the various versions of Outlook.  Even in the web access mode, the Zarafa solution was well received by the end-users.   Now, we can articulate the goal of getting rid of Outlook sometime in the future.  The synchronization with the iPhones worked flawlessly, which made the executives believers.”  Said Mr, Joehle.

The transition from an outsourced mail filter to Mailspect’s modular platform for email defense against computer viruses and spam as well as tamper-proof archiving also went without a hitch.     The transitions to the new Astaro firewall also went without incident.  “Not a single user noticed the transition.  We
turned on the new hardware appliance and it worked immediately.  And it worked much better than the old one,”  commented Mr. Joehle.  “And although the IT department was not experience with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, that transition also went smoothly.  With bitkit FRAMEWORK, not only did it work as advertised, but we were able to remove a large proprietary component from our IT infrastructure. “

With respect to the support of bitbone’s professional services team, Mr. Joehle only had positive things to say.  “We received quick responses to our questions
and could rely on their answers.  Bitbone has a good ticket system that always produced a timely confirmation, something I can’t say about other systems integrators.  Bitbone treated us like we were an important customer and they made it clear that they were available outside of normal business hours.”

Conclusion

The original system with 350 users was recently expanded by 50 user to 400 licenses, with the inclusion of the Austrian and then French sales forces in the solution.  The Zarafa cluster will not be the last project between Hofmann and bitbone.  “ We want to incorporate more Open Source software in our IT infrastructure, for example office automation and Linux-based notebooks for the sales force.  Where it makes sense and where their competencies fit,   we look forward to doing more projects with bitbone,” declared Mr. Joehle.

 Highlights

Industry:  Food services and catering for social service agencies.

Number of Users: Initially 350, then 50more with the additional of the
Austrian and French sales forces.

Requirements:  Implementation of a high availability collaboration
solution.

  •  Full-function groupware solution that works with all versions of Outlook.
  • Introduce an email archive
  • Integrated with email antivirus and antispam security
  • Connect with smartphones
  • Upgrade the firewall
  • Improve LDAP-based user administration

 Solution:

  •  Hardware- HP Xeon Quad Core Servers
  • Operating System:  Red Hat Enterprise Linux
  • Groupware: Zarafa Professional
  • E-mail Security:  Mailspect Defense
  • Email Archive:  Mailspect Archive
  • Email Client:   Outlook or Web Browser
  • Firewall:  Astaro Security Gateway 320
  • User Administration:  bitkit FRAMEWORK

Subscribe

Stay in touch with the latest MailSpect News and Case Studies.