Successful Replacement of Staff Email Server

by Henry Wong

The Computing Services Centre (CSC) is very happy to report that we have successfully replaced the aged OpenVMS Alpha Cluster staff email server with a more powerful Sun ONE Messaging server on 8 October 2002. It is a major change of staff email server system in our University.

The new email server not only boosts up the performance significantly, it also has richer and more user-friendly functionalities such as:

  • New WebMail interface
  • Quota & Account Profile Enquiry
  • Change Password on Web
  • Setup Email Forwarding
  • Setup Vacation Notice (Auto-reply)

In order to make the mail server replacement as smooth as possible, the CSC staff have been working very hard for the preparation and implementation of this important project since the beginning of the year.

Below are some of the important tasks that have been done before the replacement:

  • Setup, evaluate and test the new email server system on a testing environment
  • Setup, configure and customize the new mail server system
  • Create more than 4,400 user accounts, with their forwarding address, email alias and auto-reply set up (vacation notice), if any, carried from the old mail server
  • Set up Staff Email Services home page and Web interfaces for users to update their account settings such as checking account quota and profile, changing password, setting up vacation notice (auto-reply), etc.
  • Set up a special Web page for announcement and dissemination of information related to the project
  • Transfer more than 100 departmental email accounts, with mailbox content, from the "plink" server to the new staff mail server

Due to technical incompatibilities between the OpenVMS and Sun ONE Messaging systems, all users' primary email account (more than 3,300) passwords were reset to their respective Intranet passwords. In addition, to be in line with the provision of a unified electronic ID (EID)/password as announced by CIO, the "Change Password" function was enhanced so that users' Intranet account, the e-Portal (Campus Pipeline) account and the primary email account name and password pair can be synchronized after the email server replacement exercise.

For those users who have multiple (or secondary) email accounts, 788 new passwords were re-generated by the CSC and sent to the users before the replacement. The server replacement time has been carefully chosen to give full support yet minimum interruption to the users. The chosen date and time was finally fixed on 8 Oct. (Tuesday) from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. This in fact is a valuable experience in change management.

The majority of the users did not encounter any problems during the replacement. For those that did encounter some, most of them were related to the problem of password synchronization. Despite the repeated announcements and email notifications made before the replacement, many of these staff were not aware that their passwords have been reset, or they have even forgotten their Intranet passwords.

As far as the new features of the email server were concerned, some staff were not aware that many of these have been provided by the new server, such as changing password or setting up email auto-reply (vacation notice). All of the description can be found in the Staff Email Services home page. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Web pages, available inside the Staff Email Services home page, will be updated regularly to provide on-line, useful, and up-to-date information for helping our users to use the new email system more effectively.

The CSC Help Desk has done a marvelous job on attending and resolving quickly problems that were reported, thereby eliminating long interruption to users that might possibly happen during the replacement.

According to the Help Desk, 213 calls were received on 8 Oct., 115 on 9 Oct. and the number of calls resumed to normal on the third day after the server upgrade. Analysis showed that around 80% of the enquiries were password related. 20% of the enquiries were to seek advice on how to set a new or a more secure password. Few other enquiries were on how to find old email, information about the differences between intranet and email accounts, etc. Almost all of them were resolved over the phone.

The CSC does not receive any report of major problem after the replacement exercise. However, if you do encounter one, please do not hesitate to inform us by writing to