|  2014-09-04

Arges County Council improves efficiency by adopting a cloud solution

By implementing a cloud solution using Office 365, Arges County Council achieved all their objectives, along with increasing their effectiveness and productivity

Arges Country Council considered changing their e-mailing solution, which was based on a technology purchased in 2004 and, under the budgetary pressures of the past few years, decided that Microsoft Office 365 is the best choice, thus becoming the first institution part of the Local Public Administration which fully migrated to a Cloud Computing service. The motivation? Office 365 does not imply an initial investment, it offers payment mechanisms typical for public administration, it has a high level of security and availability and allows users to be added or removed anytime. 


Arges County Council manages 102 territorial and administrative units and serves the needs of the populace in the region. Together with Ara Software Group, the council launched a long-term public-private partnership in 2004, for the development and management of the technological infrastructure of the county. This partnership involved many projects such as a data center with 15 servers, infrastructure and private communication network (VPN) covering 130 organizations, full set of solutions in the management of specific activities such as financial-accounting management, civil status, registry, document management, fees and taxes, portal, city planning, hardware, training and technical support. The solutions cover the requirements of Arges County Council as well as more than 100 entities (including subordinate institutions and town halls).


Within the public-private partnership signed with ARA Software Group, Arges County Council has benefited from an efficient e-mail solution based on Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, hosted by the institution's data center. The solution includes the main domain of Arges County Council, as well as 114 sub-domains dedicated to subordinate institutions (cities and communes) with more than 1,000 e-mail accounts.


Previously, the council was using Microsoft Outlook for its email requirements, including third-party software for those that did not have Microsoft Office licenses. Ara Software Group also provided system administrators as part of the public-private partnership. Technically, the solution was based on POP3 with local downloading of e-mails. It provided 200GB of storage space, with a limit of 10 to 40 MB per user- depending on user type. Furthermore, it allowed a distribution list of up to 200 email addresses, and protected by professional antivirus and anti-spam  solutions, with annual licensing.

Developed in 2004, the solution became outdated from a technological, hardware and software point of view. The server, on which Microsoft Exchange 2003 was running, was very old and was no longer supported by warranty. Additionally, the data center of the institution could not ensure availability, in keeping with the changing business requirements. Consequently, Arges County Council encountered many problems. This included disruption with their email services and SMTP attacks.

“The physical machine, on which the e-mail solution was running, was outdated and no longer covered by warranty. It was also being used to run at maximum capacity. Thus, its short-term replacement was required due to high-maintenance costs. The operating system, Windows Server 2003, was also outdated and no longer met current security requirements. It also created certain risks for the organization," says Nicusor Dumitru, Head of the IT Department, Arges County Council.

The situation was reviewed by the Monitoring Committee, composed of representatives from both parties in the partnership. It was decided that replacing the email solution was an immediate necessity.


In 2010, Arges County Council initiated an upgrade of the e-mail solution. Due to budgetary constraints as a consequence of the overall economic situation, including financial allocation from the state budget, this process was abandoned. The internal review revealed that the costs for purchasing a new server and the services required for installation and configuration, as well as the user access licenses were higher than the available budget. Thus, the Monitoring Committee, which periodically assesses the project's progress, started looking for other alternatives. An analysis was started on the possibility of using a cloud e-mail service instead; a solution increasingly employed by an ever-growing number of public and private organizations in the country.

There were many advantages to this solution. For starters, it did not require any initial investment in the IT infrastructure (purchasing a server, the necessary licenses and the configuration and installation services) and allows the possibility to extend usage as necessary. Moreover, from an IT point of view, the solution was managed by the supplier, which lowered the pressure on the council’s human resources. The analysis of the services available on the local market identified Microsoft Office 365 as the suitable solution for Arges County Council, which also offered the safety of a long-term contract with Microsoft, a global supplier. Moreover, the payment system was flexible and adapted to the financial year specific to a public institution.

Subsequently, Arges County Council selected the services offered by Microsoft to deploy Microsoft Office 365 for 450 users, with two licensing plans. The project would be extended later by adding new accounts as necessary. "Because of the required investment in the infrastructure, we were confident that adopting the e-mail service using Microsoft Office 365 would be the best solution. It not only offered all the functionality that we need, but we are also able to agree on a flexible cost model, depending on the number of users," states Nicusor Dumitru.

Following this process, Arges County Council became the first institution in the Central Public Administration in Romania to fully migrate to a cloud hosted e-mail service.

In order to carry out the project, Arges County Council and Ara Software Group contacted Microsoft Services in Romania for the identification of the best technical solution, including the migration of e-mail accounts. The first stage of the project took place between June-July 2013, when 450 users migrated to Office 365. The second one was scheduled for the addition of other necessary accounts.


450 Microsoft Office 365 accounts were contracted, in two licensing variants, which were specific to public administration: Exchange Online Plan 1 and Kiosk. “First of all, we wanted to keep the current situation operational for a category of potential accounts. However, the integration of the two solutions was not easy. We therefore, opted to use only cloud accounts. We also deleted some of the unused e-mail addresses, which would be activated, if they were necessary,” states Nicusor Dumitru.


The migration took place gradually during the weekends, so as not to affect the employees' activities. For the actual access to Microsoft Office 365 services, both Microsoft Outlook and other interfaces were used, including the Web. Messages were kept and archived in the cloud in order to increase the storage capacity available on the workstations. Additionally, the subscription plan provided 25GB of cloud storage space per user, as well as a complex and configurable anti-virus and anti-spam protection system.

Since it is a cloud computing service, Microsoft Office 365 has brought a lot of benefits to Arges County Council. “Microsoft Office 365 is a solution that matches the financial year of a public institution very well. It does not require an initial investment, and the costs are homogenous and predictable. Moreover, the client has permanent access to an updated technology without additional expenses, such as security and operating system,” claims Nicusor Dumitru, Head of the IT Department.

Eliminating a major initial investment and redirecting the funds over a 4-year period
Based on calculations made by Arges County Council, the value of the initial investment in the development of an on-site e-mail solution (costs determined by the purchase, installation and configuration of the server, the purchase of e-mail licenses, user access, security product licenses) would cover the use of the Microsoft Office 365 services for a period of at least 4 years. This does not take into account the costs of management and maintenance. Moreover, after 4 years, the solution would have already become outdated and the server's warranty would have expired.

Increased Flexibility in terms of use
With Office 365, Arges County Council has the possibility of adding or deleting users as necessary, which is a major benefit for a complex organization with more than 100 entities (subordinated institutions and town halls) and therefore, a high dynamics of the requirements in terms of using the e-mail accounts. “An important advantage of Microsoft Office 365 is that users can be added constantly, without being hampered by the capacity of the IT infrastructure. For the previous solution, we took into account from the beginning a high number of users in order to cover all requirements, but many accounts were rarely used. We have now launched the project only with users whom we are sure that need e-mail, and we can add as many accounts as necessary. Therefore, we have transparency and flexibility in terms of use, and we can eliminate any useless expense,” he adds.

Increased security and elimination of attacks on the SMTP server
In recent years, Arges County Council dealt with a series of attacks on the SMTP server, which were eliminated by migrating the e-mail solution to the cloud. “The security level of Microsoft Office 365 is very high, and the vulnerabilities induced by the e-mail server of Arges County Council, based on an outdated operating system, have been removed.”

High e-mail availability 
The service-level agreement (SLA) guaranteed by Microsoft ensures that Microsoft Office 365 will be available at 99.982%.

Simplified IT administration
Being a service hosted on an infrastructure managed by Microsoft, Microsoft Office 365 lowers the pressure on the employees charged with managing the IT infrastructure of Arges County Council within the public-private partnership with Ara Software Group. For the IT service of Arges County Council, the configuration of the new accounts and any changes are as easy to make, compared to a solution hosted internally. “Microsoft Office 365 eliminated the costs induced by the IT infrastructure corresponding to the e-mail solution, as well as the charges for its administration,” concludes Nicusor Dumitru happily.


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