By Francois Gauthier
With the rise in awareness relating corporate e-mail systems to regulatory compliance, corporations are becoming increasingly concerned with both the cost of their e-mail operations and their ability to access critical data from those systems in a timely manner. Huge fines are driving corporations to take a closer look at their e-mail archiving systems. Below, we examine the current problem relating e-mail systems and growth to effective policy management and archiving of those systems.
Growing E-mail Volumes Increasingly Challenging
Corporate Microsoft Exchange messaging systems are growing at an exponential rate. Employees use e-mail as a business-critical communication tool. Typically, an employee sends and receives on average 10 megabytes of e-mail daily, and the size of e-mail messages and attachments is constantly increasing. As a result, IT administrators are challenged to efficiently keep pace with the tremendous data growth rates characteristic of most corporate Exchange systems. Corporate mail stores are becoming overloaded with messages and attachments, and IT organizations struggle with degraded Exchange server performance and availability.
Short-term E-mail Storage on Exchange Servers Ineffective
Corporate IT departments have attempted to cope with the e-mail deluge in the short-term by making use of the Exchange servers' ability to handle large volumes of data. As Exchange data swells, corporations have added more Exchange servers and storage; but this short-term panacea is limited in effect. Exchange servers are not designed for long-term data storage and the performance and stability of Exchange servers degrades in direct proportion to the amount of stored data. The unfortunate result of retaining all e-mail messages on the Exchange server has resulted in poor Exchange availability and performance, increased backup and recovery time, and has required more expensive storage to support the e-mail growth. In the attempt to respond to the need to maintain the ever-growing volumes of e-mail messages, firms have degraded the ability of Exchange servers to provide the service levels that users expect.
IT administrators, faced with poor performance issues, have also attempted to address the e-mail storage issue by using the Exchange servers' internal functionality, namely the ability to allow Outlook users the ability to create their own personal archive folders and to set up rules to move older messages to these folders after a certain time period. Corporate users have been given mailbox quotas to force them to delete unneeded or old messages, or move them to Outlook data storage files known also as Personal Store files (PST) in the local network shared drives. These files are part of Outlook and are often used to give the users unlimited storage of their personal storage areas, while keeping the Exchange server free of excessive data. Once again, this short-term solution, which essentially allows Outlook users to become administrators of their own data, has many drawbacks, including:
PST files add more storage: PST files consume two to five times more physical storage than Exchange files, are prone to data corruption, often aren't backed up, and can't be easily accessed and searched. Equally important, corporate retention policies cannot be enforced on PST files.
Poor e-mail management: When left to their own devices, Outlook users are notoriously inconsistent in managing their own data. Industry studies indicate that up to 60% of an organization's intellectual property is contained within its e-mail system-which means that such a critical resource should not be managed in a fragmented, uncentralized and happenstance fashion.
Inability to effectively backup critical e-mail messages: The personal archive (PST) folder approach generally allows for a configurable storage location for the archived data, which takes control over the location of this data out of the hands of IT, therefore making backup a catch-as-catch-can procedure.
More demands on IT for "lost" data: A recent industry study by technology researchers CNI indicated that as much as 81% of business end users are not able to retrieve e-mail data from personal archives (PST) without assistance from help-desk personnel or systems administrators. This expensive, inefficient outcome could be avoided in the first place with a centralized backup system.
Short-term e-mail management approaches don't satisfy IT or corporate users: Outlook users want direct and immediate access to both old and new e-mail communications, and are wary of leaving their Outlook clients to access or organize the old e-mail messages. With the importance of e-mail undisputed, and with IT departments and employees (and the firm itself, as a result) poorly served by current Exchange e-mail management and storage solutions, there has to be another way to address this critical issue.
The E-mail Archiving Solution
Deploying an e-mail archiving solution can alleviate the issues of e-mail management under Exchange. The right e-mail archive solution benefits companies, IT administrators and end users, which results in the best management of e-mail, a critical business communication tool.
IT administrators benefit from a seamless, low-impact e-mail archival process: Such a solution simplifies the complexities of Exchange data management by seamlessly integrating with Exchange servers and Outlook clients. The server-side archival processes are low impact and capture messages based on companies' policies without performing costly operations on the Exchange server. For the IT administrator, this is the simplest model of deployment and support offering all the benefits of mailbox management and reduction of active mail stores while supplying potentially infinite active mail archives.
Employees can easily use a flexible, dependable e-mail archiving solution: To the Outlook user, such a solution can be non-intrusive with no requirements for special plug-ins, client software or even configuration changes to their Outlook clients. This means a zero cost deployment and maintenance business case for the IT department. Outlook users now have the flexibility to access critical and historical business correspondence and records. If they need to restore a particular e-mail to their active mailbox or local archive, that access is just a click away.
E-mail Archiving is a Win-Win Proposition for Corporations
The many benefits of e-mail archiving are as follows:
Cost-effective, efficient e-mail management based on business needs. The conversion costs to manually migrate Exchange data are avoided as aging Exchange data are automatically migrated from expensive primary storage to lower cost secondary storage with policy-driven management of e-mail retention, migration and eventual deletion. Whether for internal corporate policy or regulatory compliance such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA, IT administrators can dictate companies' rules and retention policies based on the business value of e-mail and attachments. All e-mail messages will then be archived based on centralized policies, even those immediately deleted by a user. Any Folders from Outlook clients can be archived, not just Inbox and Sent Items. By leveraging LDAP to manage users and groups, administrators eliminate the need to set up users outside of Exchange environment. Administrators can create mailbox policies based on age, size, folder size or other criteria. Administration time is reduced with indexing and searching of content by age, entity tagging, header information and other criteria. Implementing an e-mail archiving solution reduces time demands on administrators and Outlook users by eliminating mailbox cleanup.
Improved performance, availability and reliability of Exchange server. With the automatic migration of aging data from primary storage to secondary storage, the overload on Exchange servers is alleviated. IT administrators can efficiently bring under control the torrent of e-mail messages that come into the Exchange storage by utilizing the policy engine. As a result, Exchange servers' performance, availability and reliability improve; IT administrators now can set a predictable service level with an alert threshold. The productivity of Outlook users therefore increases with fast, reliable access to Exchange data.
Minimal disruption to Outlook users. Full integration with the Outlook client machine provides a familiar Outlook experience to the end users, enabling them to intuitively perform message archive and recovery with minimal training. The e-mail messages are archived "silently" with no interruption to Outlook users. After the e-mail is archived, only a stub of the e-mail message remains on Exchange. Such an archiving method can reduce the footprint on the Exchange server by more than 60%. When the Outlook user wants to view the e-mail, it will come efficiently from the archive storage without the need to restore data to Exchange. If they do want to restore the archived e-mail, it is restored to the Exchange server in its original state to be served to the Outlook client. Outlook users (and IT administrators) can take advantage of a web-based full-text indexing search tool to intuitively find and restore historical e-mail messages from the archive. The result: More productive Outlook users who aren't as much of a drain on IT resources.
Storage consolidation and optimization for Exchange. With centralized archive storage pools, overall storage utilization increases and the ratios of terabytes managed per administrator decreases. As Exchange data is automatically migrated based on business values from expensive primary storage to low-cost secondary storage, data storage in the Exchange environment is optimized. The need for mailbox quotas or local PST files is also eliminated; existing PST files can be brought under management quickly as the e-mail archive server scans, discovers and imports these files to the archive storage. To ensure just one copy of the e-mail message is archived, the e-mail archive server applies single-instance storage to archived files and attachments through a unique message signature. Thus an e-mail archiving solution can significantly cut overhead costs by reducing the growth of expensive storage, reducing the size of archived content by more than 50%, and allowing optimization of storage utilization in the Exchange environment.
Firms Gain Access to E-mail Archiving For Long-Term Benefits
The information stored in corporate Microsoft Exchange messaging systems represents a significant asset worthy of centralized management policies. As the volume of e-mail messages flowing through the Exchange system increases, the actual number of corporate mailboxes also increases along with the costs and mismanagement of current, short-term e-mail administration. Overtaxed Exchange servers, loss of information, reduced employee productivity and exposure to corporate compliance risks are all liabilities that organizations must manage. New e-mail archiving tools to centrally manage and administer control of e-mail policies can significantly reduce e-mail server overload, secure intellectual property, and empower end-users to easily access, retrieve and restore e-mail. This leads ultimately to cost reductions for corporations affecting their bottom line positively. In today's push for policy automation and control along with regulatory compliance looming large, effective e-mail archiving tools are a critical component in the corporate IT infrastructure.
Francois Gauthier is chief technology officer of Atempo, Inc. (Palo Alto, CA)