Online high school boosts eMail

Primavera Online High School, based in Chandler, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, is the largest virtual high school in the state, teaching approximately 2,500 students each year through a 100 percent online curriculum.

Primavera’s mission is to provide a comprehensive, personalized educational experience, offering each student an innovative way to earn a high school diploma.

Primavera provides a structured yet flexible atmosphere that prepares students for real world situations. Its unique and customized curriculum utilizes a variety of self-developed and nationally-renowned content that enriches each student’s education and encompasses all learning styles.

The school is accredited by the North Central Association (NCA) and the Commission on International and Trans-Regional Accreditation and is committed to offering the highest quality education to each and every student.

A key component of Primavera’s teaching philosophy is regular one-on-one communication between its instructors, students, and parents. Given its 100 percent online approach, messaging within Primavera’s proprietary Parent Student Portal (PSP) and eMail are the preferred methods of communication.

Primavera’s certified, highly-qualified instructors routinely communicate with students and parents via PSP messaging and eMail, informing them of important updates that cover everything from academic performance and curriculum to policy changes.

Primavera turned to Neverfail, a provider of high availability and business continuity solutions, to prevent unexpected eMail downtime that could impact the school’s ability to communicate back and forth with students and other constituents.

On any given day, Primavera receives and sends upwards of 10,000 eMails, making it a critical communication method for the school. In addition to faculty-parent-student eMail correspondence, other critical communications include those from the Arizona Department of Education, which frequently sends important updates to schools regarding funding, curriculum changes, and accreditation requirements.

Missing one of these mission-critical eMails would be disastrous given the fact that Primavera could miss a funding opportunity or a new compliance requirement. Recovering one of these eMails from the Arizona Department of Education also proves to be a daunting task.

The need for a high availability solution was precipitated by an incident in 2007 in which eMail went down for all 200 users at the school, including its 150 faculty members.

"Before installing Neverfail, our Microsoft Exchange Server crashed and eMail went down for a whole day, impacting everyone across the entire organization. We ultimately recovered, but it was a big wake-up call and we knew we needed to put a system in place that would protect mission-critical applications like this going forward," Manuel Barua, IT director for Primavera, said.

Led by Barua, the IT department tested numerous high availability solutions including clustering, but ultimately chose Neverfail for Exchange for its ease-of-use and reasonable cost. Customer service and support was another factor that Primavera considered in its decision, citing that other vendors has fallen short in this regard.

Primavera’s selection of Neverfail over Microsoft’s Standby Continuous Replication (SCR) and Cluster Continuous Replication (CCR) applications is notable, since both come built-in to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, the version used by Primavera.

"To use either SCR or CCR, Primavera would have had to purchase and build a cluster, which we didn’t have the resources to do. On top of it, SCR needs manual intervention to recover the systems. It’s not a 24×7 solution. Failover is not automatic. We are an IT department of four people, so having a solution that was complementary to Exchange 2007, but that didn’t require significant rework and upgrades, was essential. For us, that was Neverfail," Barua said.

Primavera installed Neverfail for Exchange in late 2008 after testing it thoroughly. It met all of Barua’s and his team’s expectations and requirements.

"In addition to Neverfail’s ease-of-use, we looked for and tested it on its functionality and its ability to replicate Exchange and have it up and running on the failover system in a matter of minutes. It handled it seamlessly," Barua said.

The school has not experienced any eMail downtime since the implementation and is considering adding Neverfail for disaster recovery to complement their Neverfail high availability solution.

"For now, we rest easy knowing that we have the 24-7 availability to the eMail necessary for us to continue providing the exceptional teaching and personalized attention Primavera is known for. Our commitment to quality education is our first priority and Neverfail helps us keep that promise," said Barua.

Manuel Barua is Director of IT at Primavera Online High School, the largest virtual high school in Arizona, teaching approximately 2,500 students each year through an entirely online curriculum.

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