Who's minding the message store? (Part 2)

By Michele Hope

—Part 2 of 2—Yesterday's article (see Part 1 of 2) focused on e-mail management and archiving and how important it is for all groups within an organization to work together to define the policies, procedures, and underlying technology surrounding the proper management and disposition of e-mail. Today's article discusses preservation and retention issues—i.e., short-term vs. long-term strategies—and has some suggestions for IT.

"Storage people think storage. That's the reason you can have reactive decisions of either 'Let's get rid of everything or let's keep everything.' Neither of those approaches is prudent," says Randolph Kahn, founder of Kahn Consulting, an information management and IT compliance consulting firm, and author of Information Nation Warrior.

Kahn claims organizations need to make sure that records preservation and retention issues are spelled out first, before deciding on a specific technology fix. "Our approach is to develop simple rules that a limited number of employees can apply and use on-the-fly. These make sure that the preservation and retention issues are addressed while being mindful of storage complexities and expenses," says Kahn.

For example, a policy could be developed that identifies when an e-mail rises to the level of being considered a record based on its ongoing legal, compliance, operational, or historic value. Once it's deemed a record, only the recipient of that e-mail is required to take some action for retention purposes. "That means if an e-mail has one recipient and 49 others who were copied, those 49 people don't have to retain the copy unless they are required to take some action pursuant to it," says Kahn. "We also tell employees that they don't need to retain it, and they need to get rid of it immediately when it's no longer of value to them."

Kahn maintains these types of simple rules allow users to code e-mail in three seconds or less and are more likely to be followed. From a storage perspective, they can also help achieve the combined result of limiting the storage burden while addressing the company's responsibilities toward preservation and retention.

Short-term vs. long-term
There is still some dispute among vendors about whether it makes sense to wait to deploy e-mail archiving until after the organization has figured out a more sustainable long-term strategy. While all agree that a long-term strategy is better, some say IT can't just sit idle on the issue of e-mail management and wait for the organization to mature in its knowledge of the best e-mail retention approach.

"Some companies would rather not implement a system until they have their entire records management strategy identified, so they can apply different retention periods to different things, like a message from finance vs. a lunch invitation," says Roger Erickson, CTO of Zantaz, an archiving and management software vendor that offers archiving and compliance solutions, along with off-site management services for e-mail. "Very few companies are prepared to roll out an enterprise-wide message categorization and retention program. Most companies realize that using an archive system doesn't lock them into anything, but it does give them the ability to see what they have."

Solving immediate problems, like those surrounding e-mail discovery, is a strong driver for immediate action. "A lot of organizations want to search and index the contents of their PST and EML files," says Mike Marchi, vice president of solutions marketing at Kazeon Systems, which offers an Information Server appliance to help companies locate, index, and manage their unstructured file information. "This is driven more by the legal department, which wants to find all content that is sitting outside of the Exchange databases."

Users are also making more immediate demands for searchability of their own e-mail stores. T.M. Ravi, president and CEO of Mimosa Systems, attributes this to what he calls the "Google effect." Mimosa offers an e-mail management, archiving, and disaster-recovery solution for users of Microsoft Exchange. Ravi claims users can now maintain—inexpensively or free—relatively large "super-sized" mailboxes from the commercial sector whose contents can be easily searched. This is moving them to now request the same functionality of their corporate e-mail accounts.

Erickson continues: "The naysayers who say creating an archive doesn't solve all the problems are right, but it still solves a lot of the operational problems, saves companies a ton of money, and puts them down the path of applying data classification on all messages that are archived." Erickson claims that a key area of savings from archiving solutions comes from the ability to de-duplicate (often referred to as single-instance storage) and compress e-mail messages. This process alone can account for as much as 70% to 80% storage savings in a typical e-mail environment.

Advice for IT
According to Rabe, IT administrators who hear of all these competing drivers and interests around e-mail may have a tendency to offload the problem to another group in the company responsible for coming up with e-mail requirements before they try to tackle the infrastructure.

"Because it's a business problem, it should be driven to a certain extent by business people who refer to IT as required," says Sue Clarke, a senior research analyst at the Butler Group, which has produced recent reports on e-mail management. "You have to look at the justification for implementing e-mail archiving from a business, compliance, or litigation perspective and see it from the perspective of potential risk."

From an IT perspective, Rabe believes that someone in IT needs to be adventurous enough to take on the e-mail issue and spearhead discussion with other groups in the company. Symantec's Mehta puts it another way: "The challenge for storage and e-mail administrators is for them to get educated enough on these other areas and understand the other factors that play into it. Then, translate that into business requirements."

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

This article was originally published on February 02, 2006