Washington energy lobby adopts Exchange failover

One of the largest lobbying associations in the U.S. energy industry recently implemented failover software from XOsoft to guard against costly e-mail lapses.

When you're a major-league energy lobbyist in Washington, D.C., instant e-mail access is as important as carrying a cell phone.

This was one reason that electric-company advocate Edison Electric Institute (EEI) implemented an automated, high-availability system as a safety net for Microsoft Exchange.

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"E-mail is really critical to our business," said Rick Williams, lead network engineer for EEI. "Some of what we provide is information to help restore power and coordinate disaster response, and needless to say, a lot of the work they [analysts] do is after hours."

The EEI is an association of U.S. shareholder-owned electric companies, international affiliates and industry associates. Organized in 1933, the group provides advocacy and analysis; sharing information with Congress, government agencies, financial firms; and its members, who generate almost 60% of the electricity produced by U.S. generators, according to the association.

Until late last summer, the EEI mirrored Exchange servers on Xiotech Corp. Magnitude 3D storage area networks between its Washington headquarters and a disaster recovery site about 20 miles away in Virginia. When Williams shopped for applications that could failover and back the Exchange servers in the case of a jam, he tapped XOsoft's WANSyncHA (high availability) for Exchange.

WANSynchHA is software for Exchange replication designed to allow applications to remain available during server downtime. By running application services on a replica and performing operations to verify the integrity of the data, part of the package allows recoverability testing to take place without having to resynchronize or make the system vulnerable, according to XOsoft.

Gil Rapaport, executive marketing and strategy vice president for XOsoft, listed main competitors as being Symantec Corp./Veritas Software Corp. and EMC Corp., but claims his company is the only vendor in the market with embedded continuous data protection as well as roll-back capabilities, though that's difficult to imagine in such a crowded market space.

"Seventy-two percent of customers do disaster recovery once or twice a year," Rapaport said, citing research by InfoPro Inc., which polled several hundred IT executives in a 2004 study. "With our software you can do it several times a week, if you like, with no shutdown."

Zero downtime is attractive to anyone, but especially worth it for businesses that deem their operations mission critical.

"One miscommunication can destroy a lot of work -- we needed to find something," Williams said. "I felt their [XOsoft's] bandwidth throttling was great, the failover and failback combined with a small footprint on the server. We did have some cheaper solutions. I'm always hesitant to mention other people's names, but XOsoft had a much better product."

That conviction would be put to the test sooner than he thought. A month after its installation, a smooth operation with a competent staff, Williams said, Verizon gave less than a week's notice of over-the-weekend maintenance that would knock out power to EEI's headquarters. This news came when the staff was ramping up at an important conference in Arizona.

"A couple days into their meeting, we got a notice from our building that the power needed to go down on Friday, they couldn't do it any other time and blah, blah, blah," Williams said. "It would have been awful. It would have taken us four to six hours to get failed over, and failback would be really dicey. Friday and Saturday are big work days, but the event was essentially seamless. For those using Outlook Web Access using Exchange, they never even knew the power went off. "

And though it all might sound like gravy, the suite -- also offered for SQL, Oracle and "Server," -- goes for about $10,000, and forecasters like Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, say companies like XOsoft remain underdogs in the failover space.

"Especially if you're a Sun [Mircosystems Inc.] customer, you're likely to buy Veritas, which is a pretty rich product. It's great at storage management with virtualization, volume control, business continuity -- and it's broadly used," Clabby said. "Clearly they [XOsoft] are a second tier player, and if they're likening themselves to Veritas and EMC and HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.], it's going to be a hard road to hoe."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Joe Spurr, News Writer

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