Craft Brewer Reduces Costs and Increases Availability with Hosted Messaging Solution
New Belgium Brewing is the third-largest craft brewery in the United States. Founded in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1991, the brewery produces 29 varieties of beer and distributes across 26 states. About 1/3 of the company’s nearly 400 employees work at remote locations, so New Belgium deployed a Microsoft Unified Communications solution to ensure that employees have the latest capabilities without sacrificing reliable, available service.
New Belgium Brewing was founded in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1991 by husband and wife team Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan after Lebesch traveled through Belgium on a brewery tour and came home inspired. He named the company’s flagship beer, Fat Tire, for the fat tires on the mountain bike he rode to tour the European villages that inspired him to begin brewing beer. Employee owned, New Belgium Brewing emphasizes ecologically friendly practices. Today it is the third-largest craft brewer in the United States. New Belgium produces 29 varieties and more than half a million barrels of beer per year, which is distributed across 26 states.
Of its 385 employees, about one-third work at locations across the United States as sales people, field quality specialists, and event coordinators. New Belgium relies heavily on a Microsoft unified communications solution to keep its workforce connected. For messaging, it recently upgraded to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on-premises, and it uses a third-party product for spam filtering. It also deployed Exchange Unified Messaging so that employees can receive and manage both voice mail and e-mail messages in a unified inbox.
New Belgium also recently upgraded its collaboration and document management solution to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Its company intranet, known as “the Mothernet,” is built on SharePoint Server technology. Through the Mothernet, employees can access company information, project sites, cross-team sites, document libraries, and company wikis. They can also collaborate on projects and documents in real time.
For communications, New Belgium plans to upgrade to Microsoft Lync Server 2010, which provides enhanced versions of the communications capabilities provided by Office Communications Server 2007 R2—presence, instant messaging, robust conferencing, and enterprise voice—in addition to improvements in topology, deployment, and management tools. It also plans to use Lync enterprise voice as its primary voice solution. “We have used some version of Microsoft enterprise voice since Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007,” says Travis Morrison, Senior Systems Administrator at New Belgium Brewing. “We had it connected to our Cisco Call Manager. With Lync Server, we plan to retire our private-branch exchange telephony system and use Lync enterprise voice.”
Although New Belgium was happy with the way its unified communications solution helped to keep employees connected to each other, it still saw room for improvement in the areas of availability, storage, and reliability for its messaging solution. Some employees who work in production do not have dedicated computers to access email; New Belgium wanted to provide an easier way for them to manage email. Employees who use email on a daily basis have mailboxes with a size limit of about 7 gigabytes (GB), and as the company grows, its messaging solution requires more storage on its storage area network (SAN). Finally, New Belgium wanted to ensure that its remote employees could always access email, even in the event that the corporate servers were unavailable.
To complement its current on-premises messaging solution, New Belgium decided to consider a cloud-based email service. It joined the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program to evaluate Microsoft Office 365. Office 365 combines the familiar Office desktop with the next generation of cloud-based communication and collaboration services and includes Microsoft Exchange Online, which is based on Exchange Server 2010 technology. New Belgium wanted to understand how Exchange Online and Exchange Server 2010 would work together in its environment to help it reduce administration and increase availability for its employees. “We feel very comfortable moving our messaging solution to the cloud with Microsoft, because we feel like it is a very mature, stable service with all the latest capabilities,” says Morrison.
With Exchange Online, New Belgium can ensure that remote employees have access to their email as long as they have access to a computer or mobile device with an Internet connection, because Microsoft guarantees 99.9 percent uptime. “A third of our workforce is remote, so fault tolerance and high availability are things we have been expanding. As a smaller IT shop, we have looked for ways to facilitate that,” says Morrison.
With a hybrid solution, New Belgium can move mailboxes to Exchange Online at its own pace. It will begin by provisioning mailbox accounts for production workers in the cloud. New Belgium used Office 365 Directory Sync to maintain user and group configuration information between its on-premises environment and Office 365. The brewery also deployed Active Directory Federation Services to enable single sign-on, so that employees could maintain a single set of credentials. The IT staff can perform administrative tasks for both the online and on-premises environment through the Exchange Management Console. “Email is not where my time as an administrator is best spent,” explains Morrison. “With Office 365 and Exchange Server 2010, I can manage on-premises and off-premises mailboxes through a single console, which is very efficient.”
For employees without a dedicated computer, New Belgium will create kiosk subscriptions, so that employees can manage email through Outlook Web App on any computer with a broadband connection. Morrison explains, “Office 365 was intriguing to us because of the licensing model for kiosk workers versus [the licensing model] for office workers. [We] can provide kiosk workers who do not have a dedicated work area with the full functionality available in Exchange 2010.” They will have 500 megabytes (MB) of email storage available in the cloud, and they can also access many of the same capabilities as employees who use the Microsoft Outlook 2010 messaging and collaboration client.
“One of the things we have struggled with is mailbox size growth,” explains Morrison. With Exchange Online, remote employees with dedicated computers who use email more frequently will have larger mailboxes with 25 GB of storage in the cloud, and they can manage email and voice mail through Outlook Web App or the Outlook 2010 client. Whether their mailboxes are on-premises or in the cloud, employees share the same email domain name and can view the same global address list. They can also view each other’s calendar and free and busy data. In addition, they can move messages into a personal archive for long-term retention. They can easily search both their inboxes and their archives when they need to find something. “What we like about the larger mailboxes and the personal archive capability is that we can both reduce the amount of storage on our SAN and let employees manage their own email rather than applying more IT policies,” says Morrison. In addition, they can use Conversation View, which groups together messages from a single conversation, so they can quickly and easily identify the most recent messages, view the chain of responses, and see a preview of each response in a conversation when they open individual messages. With MailTips, employees are automatically alerted—before they click the Send button—whether a message recipient is out of the office, an attachment is too large to send, or a distribution list contains external recipients.
Because of the interoperation between Lync Server 2010 and Exchange Online, employees can continue to see rich presence information through Outlook Web App or Outlook 2010. They can also start chat sessions with available colleagues, and they can escalate to a voice call or online meeting with a single click of the mouse.
By implementing a hybrid messaging solution with Exchange Online and Exchange Server 2010, New Belgium can better address the needs of its employees without sacrificing any of the unified communications capabilities they need to do their jobs. Production workers will have ready access to email through kiosk computers, and it can ensure that remote employees have stable, reliable service. It can also reduce costs and reduce administration.
Helps Reduce Costs
With Office 365, New Belgium can easily provision accounts for new employees in the cloud, so as the company grows, it can avoid additional software and storage costs as it adds people. In addition, after it has moved most of its mailboxes to Exchange Online, it can guarantee email availability without taking on the additional cost to maintain the solution on-premises. It can also retire its third-party spam filtering product. “It costs us a considerable amount to guarantee 99.9 percent uptime for our Exchange servers,” says Morrison. “With Exchange Online, we can reduce those costs, and we gain time to perform other tasks.”
New Belgium can also reduce hardware costs as it transitions more mailboxes to the cloud, because its on-premises solution will require fewer servers. Because most of the messaging data will be stored in the cloud, it can also reduce storage costs because the solution requires less storage overall. For messaging data stored on-premises, it can use less expensive SATA disks.
With Exchange Online, New Belgium can also ensure that employees have access to the latest technology without incurring the cost of upgrades that might require more hardware or storage. “We like to be on the leading edge,” says Morrison. “With Office 365, we will always have the latest version. We do not have to worry that cost will prohibit us from giving employees access to the latest capabilities.”
As New Belgium transitions to the cloud, it can gradually reduce administration tasks. “Because we can rely on Microsoft to manage maintenance for our mailboxes in the cloud, we can spend our time working on business projects instead of managing email servers,” says Morrison.
The IT staff especially appreciates the larger mailboxes and the personal archive in Exchange Online. “Because we will not have to worry about storage, we can allow people to manage their own email,” says Morrison. “For us, it alleviates the headache of enforcing quotas and applying policies.”
When New Belgium adds new employees, no matter where they are located, it can quickly provision new accounts. “Planning for growth is much simpler with a hosted service,” says Morrison. “We can add people without having to worry about whether we have enough licenses or storage to support them.”
For its remote employees, New Belgium can ensure that service will be consistently available. With Exchange Online, it can expect disaster recovery through continuously-replicated, geo-redundant data centers that are third-party certified to international standards. The brewery can also take advantage of premium antispam and antivirus protection, 24 hour a day, seven days a week IT-level phone support, and a financially backed, 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement.