Easing e-mail management headaches

By Heidi Biggar

E-mail is one of IT's greatest challenges from both a management and data-protection standpoint. And that's no surprise given the fact that businesses are sending more than 2.75 trillion e-mails per year, according to the Gartner consulting firm. That's 2.75 trillion e-mails (and associated attachments) that need to be handled, managed, and stored for possible future retrieval.

While there isn't any single "right" way to manage your e-mail environment, there are some things to avoid. For example, one of the biggest mistakes an organization can make in trying to implement an e-mail management strategy is to label it a pure data storage problem and hand it off to an IT administrator to handle.

Explains Jacob Farmer, chief technology officer at Cambridge Computer: "First, you need to accept the argument that e-mail is 'business content,' and then you need to decide which of the properties of content are relevant to you [see table on p. 20]."

What is the life cycle of the content (i.e., at what point in time will it become static)? What is the long-term value of the content? Do you have a place or a means for storing redundant copies of the data? These are just a few of the questions that should be raised as you assess your overall e-mail management strategy.

Farmer says, "For some organizations, all e-mail is content. It's a record of corporate communications, so to set quotas that force people to delete e-mails that are 'content' to them is arguably nuts."

Farmer defines content as objects or groups of objects of information that have lasting value. "Messaging," in contrast, is technology that is used to move messages (e.g., text, documents, voicemail, faxes, etc.) of different types from point A to point B.

The problem with most e-mail systems, including Microsoft Exchange, is that they are great messaging systems but poor content management systems, explains Farmer. "Exchange, for example, has slow and unsophisticated searching capabilities, no inherent support for aging content, and a weak back-end database."

To compensate for these shortcomings, Farmer recommends considering third-party e-mail content management, or archiving, applications or even attachment management or document management applications.

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Farmer says that while these types of management applications are far from mainstream today, they are quickly becoming an essential ingredient of an effective e-mail management infrastructure because of the forecasted increase in e-mail content and the storage demands that that growth will necessitate.

E-mail is increasing at a rate of 38% annually, making it the fastest-growing storage consumer from an application perspective, claims the Yankee Group, as well as a source of increasing management concern.

In an InfoStor QuickVote reader poll, 45% of respondents said that e-mail was a growing problem within their organizations and that they were looking for a better ways to manage their e-mail environment.

Similarly, 45% of respondents in an Osterman Research study (see charts) earlier this year said they were interested in purchasing a single-vendor solution that could manage, archive, and protect e-mail content and keep e-mail systems available (see "Users contend with growing e-mail stockpiles," InfoStor, May 2003, p.1).

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E-mail content management products are available from vendors such as Educom TS, IBM, iLumin, IXOS, KVS, Legato, Tumbleweed, and others (see figure, left). These products have full-blown text search capabilities (of both messages and attachments), allow users to perform cross-mailbox searches, and provide tools to help companies comply with a variety of government regulations, audits, or court orders.

These products can also help businesses tackle some of the larger e-mail management issues, such as backup, performance, and storage usage.

According to Gartner, the e-mail "active archiving" market generated $30.9 million in new license revenue last year, and the installed base grew to 1,428 customers.

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For less cost than a content management application, companies can implement e-mail attachment management applications. Examples of vendors in this space include Accelliion, AttachStor, Exivity, Softlinx, and Veritas.

These types of products are designed to minimize the space, bandwidth, and associated cost burden of e-mail attachments by reducing them to a single instance (even if the document or file name varies) based on their content, explains Farmer. It is estimated that as much as 95% of all e-mail resources are consumed by attachments.

By deleting duplicate e-mail attachments and only moving incremental changes once the full document has been saved, Farmer says businesses can realize as much as an 80% to 90% reduction in storage capacity in some cases.

But before you implement any type of e-mail management tools, Farmer says you should first make sure you have put appropriate e-mail retention policies in place. "Every company should have one, and some must have them," he says. And that means setting policies for when e-mail should be moved from primary to secondary storage and when e-mails should be purged, among other things.

A couple of tips: Don't set different policies for different classes of employees, and make sure you control your backup tapes, Farmer advises. Once you've put these policies in place and assessed your management options, you can then consider your primary and secondary storage options.

This article was originally published on September 01, 2003