Calgary rounds up mobile environment for Stampede

Calgary is booming – and not just in the oil business. With four million tourists last year and a $1-billion tourism industry, the city’s not-for-profit tourism agency, was looking for ways to use technology to communicate with tourists about events like the Calgary Stampede, which is taking place this week.

But Tourism Calgary had an aging Novell NetWare 6.5 and GroupWise environment that had been in place for more than a decade. This was causing problems with its mobile strategy – the organization was trying to integrate BlackBerries into its office environment.

“From the get-go we had trouble,” said Paul Schierick, IT manager with Tourism Calgary. “Almost all of our BlackBerries would go down every two to three days and we have heavy users of e-mail.” The agency struggled with this problem for eight months and during that time users were getting frustrated.

Then there were reliability problems. “Novell was sucking the memory from our server and every three to four months we’d have to restart our server,” he said. Novell wasn’t prepared to fix the issue, he added, unless Tourism Calgary moved to Novell’s Linux platform. “Forget it,” he said. “Time to move on.”

The other option was to move to the Microsoft platform. “I had no Linux background at all so it was either going to be climb that mountain of learning Linux,” he said, or go with Microsoft, which he’d dabbled in before.

Last fall, Microsoft partner Knight Enterprises helped Tourism Calgary roll out a centralized system over four days that includes Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. Now, new sales leads don’t get missed and employees can respond to member questions around different promotions and events while on the road.

“When we started working with Tourism they already had NetWare, but this time when it came around, two really big things happened,” said Rose Crowley, vice-president of Calgary-based Knight Enterprises, which is also a Novell partner. First, Novell continues to support NetWare but has begun emphasizing its open source Linux products. Second, if Tourism Calgary went with Linux and continued using GroupWise, they were going to keep having problems synching their BlackBerries.

“They already had Windows in their environment as point solutions so they were more familiar with it,” she said. If an organization has a lot of expertise on staff that can handle Linux and requires it for some kind of point solution, then it still makes sense, she added. “There are some applications that were written specifically to run on Linux.” But she doesn’t recommend it for smaller organizations as a primary platform.

“NetWare and GroupWise was an aging system and resulted in a number of system failures and they were having to spend a lot of time backing up systems,” said Hilary Wittman, senior product manager of the Windows Server line with Microsoft Canada. “That’s actually quite common if you look at any aging operating system.”

Moving to the Microsoft platform will cost them less down the road, she added, since they don’t have any in-house Linux expertise. They can also take advantage of not-for-profit licensing fees from Microsoft and benefit from having a platform that will work well with third-party applications.

The Calgary Stampede is a flagship event they work to promote, but they also generate about $1 billion in revenue for tourists to come and enjoy all local attractions, she added. Calgary and Edmonton are currently leading the country in hotel stays this summer.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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