Who's minding the message store? (Part 1)

By Michele Hope

—Part 1 of 2—Storage professionals are fairly comfortable in the world of backups, remote replication, off-site disaster recovery, and disk-based restore. However, comfort levels tend to drop as talk turns to the company's e-mail management and archiving strategy.

Everyone knows that the message store, left unchecked, can quickly morph into something too large to manage. Yet the issue of e-mail management is not just a storage problem. If it were, most IT organizations would be comfortable just adding more capacity and possibly archiving older e-mail messages onto lower-cost storage devices.

E-mail archiving software exists today to enable this type of functionality. The top of most analysts' lists include EMC EmailXtender, Zantaz EAS, Symantec EnterpriseVault, the Open Text LiveLink for e-mail suite, and iLumin Assentor Enterprise suite (acquired by Computer Associates), to name just a few of the growing breed of e-mail-related archival products.

Research also shows that many IT organizations have already begun to embrace this type of functionality. A recent survey commissioned by BridgeHead Software, a storage management and archiving vendor, reported 66% of IT organizations were already using software to perform some form of e-mail archiving.

But despite the headway being made by IT, most storage professionals concede the answer to effective e-mail management goes well beyond just adding more storage. Today, IT professionals are being asked to join forces with their company's legal department, compliance officer, records managers, and HR personnel in an attempt to define the policies, procedures, and underlying technology surrounding the proper management and disposition of e-mail.

The politics of e-mail management
Most e-mail archiving vendors claim that the prospect of litigation, and the need to produce e-mails in accordance with legal discovery requests, has become a bigger driver than regulatory compliance for most companies interested in e-mail archiving. According to Stewart Noyce, senior manager of product marketing for EMC's EmailXtender, industries with a high-risk profile for litigation, such as insurance, may require IT groups to process as many as two to three new requests for legal discovery each day.

"They may have more than 1,000 incidents a year," says Noyce. "In a typical, large-scale insurance organization, they take on the risk but must also manage the cost of that risk [which includes litigation]."

That's one big reason other groups outside of IT are also getting into the act and may even spearhead e-mail management or archiving initiatives.

"The people who make the choices about e-mail management and archiving solutions are usually the CFO and compliance manager, the IT people, or the records managers," says Jens Rabe, director of compliance solutions at Open Text, a content management vendor that offers its LiveLink solutions for e-mail management and archiving.

Other vendors make a somewhat different distinction between the groups interested in e-mail archiving. According to Nick Mehta, senior director of product management at Symantec (which offers Veritas Enterprise Vault e-mail archiving and management software), the interest in e-mail archiving often centers on one of four drivers:

  • Storage optimization: Typically led by storage managers trying to control the growth of unstructured files and e-mail.
  • E-mail optimization: Usually led by e-mail administrators responding to users' need to retain e-mail for longer periods, but wanting a smarter way to manage the process than instituting quotas or managing separate PST files.
  • Retention and discovery of e-mail: Led by the legal department with an initiative to retain e-mail so that it can be quickly produced in response to legal discovery requests.
  • Compliance: Led by a compliance officer interested in ensuring e-mail is retained and able to be produced to internal or external auditors in accordance with regulations.

"E-mail, storage, legal, and compliance administrators all have to work together," says Mehta. "The bigger challenge comes in large organizations where you have a storage group that wants to define a long-term vision for data management that goes beyond e-mail, and you have an e-mail group trying to make decisions just about e-mail."

Different angles
How each group comes at the issue of e-mail archiving and management is very different. IT teams may want to lighten the IT management burden by offloading a large portion of the primary e-mail store to a searchable archive located on a secondary storage system. Most archiving products allow the end user's experience to remain relatively unchanged and may put a stub or placeholder icon in the user's in-box next to an archived e-mail, which allows the user to retain access to the e-mail.

IT groups are also interested in features that let them perform rapid recovery of complete message stores, as well as recovery of individual user mailboxes. Many are also interested in solutions that allow users to perform their own e-mail recovery.

According to Open Text's Rabe, compliance officers or records management personnel see e-mail archiving systems completely differently—as one that processes documents. "They are not as interested in how the technical problems are solved, but want to make sure there is a mechanism inside e-mail clients to differentiate the important from the unimportant," says Rabe. They are more concerned about how easily they can apply retention holds to key e-mail, or how easy it is to index, search, or classify e-mail contents. This is also where issues arise around how best to locate, search, or archive the contents of various PST files scattered around the network.

Rabe categorizes the various philosophies toward e-mail management as the difference between a top-down, business process-centered approach and a bottom-up approach that focuses more on infrastructure, speeds, and feeds. "Sometimes there's a battle between records management and compliance officers. While this is going on, IT can slip in the door and say, 'Let's start with archiving right away, and then you can figure out these other issues later,' " Rabe explains.

That's akin to building an "infinite mailbox," he says, and will likely exacerbate the problem later. "If you store e-mail for 10 years, who makes the call about whether or not the e-mail needs to be thrown away?" asks Rabe.

Michele Hope is a freelance writer and can be contacted at mhope@thestoragewriter.com

This article was originally published on February 01, 2006