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City of Edmonton masters e-mail management with AppAnalyzer

Meredith B. Derby, assistant news editor

Cathy Partridge was determined make e-mail downtime nonexistent in her office. So, Partridge, a systems analyst for the City of Edmonton, Canada recently beefed up the City's e-mail reporting and traffic analysis processes.

E-mail is an important communication means for the City and needs to have 24x7 uptime, Partridge said. Edmonton is the capital of Alberta and has a population of over 900,000. The office where Partridge works houses the offices of the mayor and seven critical departments, such as Emergency Services and Planning.

The City's six Exchange servers handle about 22,000 messages a day. The system's 5,000 users can access 2,000 public folders and 400 distribution lists on Exchange.

Last year, Partridge decided the several days it took her to pull together monthly reports on office-wide e-mail usage and performance was not an efficient use of time. Further, any problems discovered in the reports could have been festering for days before anyone could fix them. Yet, Partridge also felt pressure from the City's branch managers to produce adequate documentation of the IT department's specific services for the entire office. Each year Partridge's department informs other departments of the money they will need to budget for IT services. But, the other departments would never find out exactly what the money was used for, said Partridge. According to branch managers, that had to end.

Collecting e-mail usage data was easy because Partridge's department

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used a monitoring product called AppManager. Actually compiling easy-to-read reports caused the most problems, she said. Combine that problem with the pressure to prove what budget money was being used for and Partridge was eager to find a suitable third-party e-mail management tool.

Because the IT department used AppManager, made by San Jose, Calif.-based NetIQ, Partridge was notified by NetIQ when AppAnalyzer, its product for e-mail reporting, was announced in early 2001. Partridge said she immediately knew it would be a perfect fit for what her department needed.

AppAnalyzer publishes e-mail performance reports on a monthly basis. It comes predefined with 90 reports, including daily average traffic, mailbox size, and e-mails sent and received by department and internal domains.

After beta testing AppAnalyzer for a couple months, installation onto a separate server running SQL was easy, Partridge said. She was especially impressed with the implementation because there was no need to install additional agents on the servers. Partridge uses a Web interface for management, so there is no need to walk over to the console -- a feature she also likes. The City of Edmonton currently runs the most current version of AppAnalyzer, 1.1.

Partridge uses several of the 90 pre-configured reports, but has slightly catered them to the City's needs. The reports are published to a shared location as well as written to a Web page that can be linked to from the actual report. The reports are scheduled to run at the beginning of the month, and then people with access to them can read them whenever they want, said Partridge.

Managing the City's 400 distribution lists is easier with the help of AppAnalyzer's reports. Often, Partridge said, "people will request lists and not use them. Or, it's a one-time thing." Sometimes when a list is used only once, it's because a better list was created afterward. With AppAnalyzer, Partridge identifies those unused lists and can also see usage trends. She does similar analyzing of the City's 2,000 public folders, too.

Partridge also noted the added benefits of AppAnalyzer's ad hoc capabilities. "We don't just do monthly reports. We do get requests to investigate certain things." For example, if an external source has sent e-mail in, she can find exactly how much e-mail that person has sent in and to which employees. "This report verified our system was secure and processing incoming e-mail correctly."

With a built-in report called the Chargeback for Message Traffic and Mailbox Storage report, Partridge can get a summary of how much a user is using the system and how much space they're taking up. This helps her to move some mailboxes and balance the server load so they don't get overwhelmed and cause downtime. "I don't know if we would have been able to figure that out as quickly without AppAnalyzer," she said.

Now, several hours, at the bare minimum, but usually days, are shaved from the time it takes Partridge and her department to pull reports together. "The reports just run by themselves." Partridge checks every morning to ensure the data was gathered for the previous day, though.

"We know that it's taking us less time and effort to produce consistent reports, and management is happy," Partridge concluded. "To us, that's the greatest return."

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