Users contend with growing e-mail stockpiles

By Heidi Biggar

According to the Yankee Group, e-mail is the fastest-growing storage consumer from an application standpoint, increasing at a rate of 38% annually. At these levels, e-mail management is quickly becoming a source of considerable angst for IT administrators.

How big is the e-mail problem for the average user? Forty-five percent of respondents to a recent InfoStor QuickVote on the topic said it was a growing problem at their organizations and that they were looking for ways to better manage their e-mail environments. However, nearly a third of the respondents said that e-mail caused them only minor management problems, which could be resolved with existing resources.

A similar finding was revealed in a survey conducted by Osterman Research earlier this year. Of the 284 IT professionals polled, 45% said they were interested in a single-vendor solution that could manage, archive, protect, and keep e-mail systems available, while 55% expressed no such interest.

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Interestingly, only 35% of the respondents said they currently had an e-mail archiving system in place, and just 68% had an enforced e-mail policy. Only 25% of respondents said they backed up their e-mail and retained data for long-term use (see figures on p. 1).

A number of factors account for the current disjoint between user demand for e-mail management products and e-mail storage growth. Among them are the relative immaturity of the e-mail management market and products, varying user definitions for what constitutes e-mail archiving and data-retention policies, and the relative newness of a crop of federal and state regulations (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, SEC 17a-4) dictating various storage-retention requirements.

"What we're finding is that there is still an awareness issue [surrounding e-mail management], especially around regulation compliance," says Bill McGuire, CEO of Legato, which commissioned the Osterman poll. "People are becoming more aware about the demands of these new regulations, but many are ignoring them."

In the Osterman survey, only 33% of respondents said that their organizations were required to comply with specific regulations related to e-mail, while 68% said they were not. However, 79% said e-mail was used or accepted as written confirmation (making it subject to audits) of approvals, orders, etc., within their organizations.

McGuire believes that the number of e-mail archiving installations is actually significantly lower than polls would suggest. "When you talk about 'e-mail archiving,' there are so many different definitions," explains McGuire. "This can lead to artificially inflated numbers for certain product types."

Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group, says the answer to the e-mail dilemma is not with user quotas or data-retention policies, but both. "You've got to achieve a balance [between the two]. You need to find ways to limit user e-mail allowances, but you also have to consider data-retention policies through archiving. There's a big push to do [just] user quotas, but without data-retention policies the system is flawed."

"What happens if you're subpoenaed or audited?" asks Gruener. User quotas can't help you locate critical e-mails, but data-retention programs can through archiving. The key is being able to set appropriate e-mail policies and then build the appropriate architecture to support those policies, he says.

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"Choosing the right architecture is most difficult," claims Gruener. It requires a thorough understanding of the business (i.e., the relationship between e-mail and storage), establishing quality of service (QoS) priorities (which data is most/least important based on performance, availability, etc., factors), and how e-mail data will be treated as part of a management strategy.

"It's more than just an operational discussion," adds Legato's McGuire. "You've got to involve the business owners of the problems [e.g., the CFO, controller, general counsel]. And that means spending a lot of time with corporate lawyers going over various legal issues and risks."

Gruener recommends putting together a corporate team comprising corporate management, human resources, and various business units.

Recognizing that all data isn't created equal, and therefore shouldn't be subject to the same e-mail policies, Gruener further suggests segmenting data into four classifications: archival/reference data, operational data, business-critical data, and mission-critical data. "Doing this will help you improve backup-and-restore policies, disaster recovery, and utility storage planning," he says.

And, lastly, he recommends establishing data-retention guidelines, specifically what e-mails are important, what "terms" should be tracked, and what files or client materials should be kept.

EMC ships Centera Compliance Edition

Last month, EMC began shipping its second-generation content-addressable storage (CAS) system: Centera Compliance Edition. EMC officials say it has enhanced the system with a variety of new features that will help users better manage data—including e-mails—generated by applications in regulated industries.

New features include the ability to use Centera to enforce retention periods set by applications (e.g., KVS or Legato e-mail management software). Centera compares the retention policy to the time stamp embedded in the metadata of the stored object. If the date stamp is beyond that of the retention period, the object is deleted. If it is not, then the object is not deleted. This feature allows users to re-use disk space, while ensuring that data that shouldn't be overwritten or erased, is not.

EMC also introduced a new "shredding" capability and security features. The shredding capability, which meets Department of Defense (DoD) requirements, ensures that deleted data cannot be recovered using disk-scanning tools.

New Centera access security features protect against rogue servers and applications. Tokens are established at the application and in the Centera cluster and then passed to Centera for comparison. Centera determines if the token is acceptable.

EMC also added content parity protection; a new background "Garbage Collection" feature, which can be used to reclaim disk space; SNMP support; and remote replication management between two Centera systems.

New hardware features include support for 250GB ATA drives and Intel Pentium III processors.

RenewData helps users manage e-information

Last month, Austin, TX-based start-up RenewData announced plans to expand beyond its data-recovery services roots with the introduction of its ActiveVault software. The software can be used to create a central, searchable repository (based on Oracle 9i) for various types of electronic content and associated metadata, regardless of the age or location (e.g., disk, tape, optical) of the information.

"People are learning about the value of electronic information and electronic evidence and the value of being able to quickly turn over this information in litigation situations," says Emilio Bernabei, director of product marketing at RenewData. "The value of an e-mail archive solution is knowing your hand and being able to produce information when you need it."

For example, Bernabei says a large financial services firm used ActiveVault to produce a series of e-mails in a federal investigation. ActiveVault was able to sift through more than 122 backup tapes' worth of data, or more than 854 million pages of information, in just 96 hours, saving the company significant time and money.

ActiveVault takes current and historical information (in this case, e-mails) from backup tapes and flows them to the repository, where a fingerprint is created, explains Bernabei. By de-duping repetitive files within the repository, he says ActiveVault cuts down on storage requirements.

ActiveVault currently supports Exchange, but support for Lotus Notes and Groupwise is planned.

Plasmon bets on optical

At the AIIM conference this spring, Plasmon previewed its Ultra Density Optical (UDO) drives and media. The company is positioning the optical format as a much-needed replacement for magneto-optical (MO) formats. Its target market is long-term data archival—a niche market for MO.

UDO offers improvements in both capacity and cost, as well as in access time and durability, over MO. First-generation UDO drives will offer a fivefold increase in capacity over current-generation MO products and will be priced about one-fifth less ($2 per GB vs. $10 per GB).

"It's not as cheap as tape, but it has other attributes (e.g., permanency) that tape doesn't," explains Nigel Street, chief executive officer, at Plasmon. Unlike most tape and disk products, UDO is both write-once and rewritable. Both Sony and StorageTek offer write-once read-many (WORM) tape formats. With the release of its second-generation Centera, EMC now provides disk-based WORM (see EMC sidebar).

"The overall climate is for greater compliance, so this is a good time to come out with a new [write-once] technology," says Street, who cites SEC-17a as a potential specific use of UDO.

Plasmon expects to ship initial UDO drives this quarter, with general availability slated for the fourth quarter. To ease the transition from MO to UDO and to protect user investment in MO media, Plasmon will allow users to mix MO and UDO technologies in new libraries.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2003