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Email Archiving: "It's Here Somewhere!"

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Organizations are drowning in email and instant messages. All this online yakking is an essential part of most businesses these days, but what do you do with the thousands of messages being generated by each member of your team every year? Rick Cook takes a look at the latest possibility for storage management: email archiving.
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"Email has become the perfect storm in the last few years," says T. M. Ravi, president and CEO of Mimosa Systems, a maker of archiving products for Microsoft Exchange. "No one ever imagined it would be used the way it is being used today."

Ravi points out that this perfect storm of email is creating a huge—and growing—headache for enterprises as they try to rein in storage costs, manage vital records, and keep regulators happy.

Today, the average corporate user sends and receives 113 email messages a day, according to a study by the Radicati Group. That translates into about 15MB of storage per day per user, or nearly 300MB per month. By the end of the decade, that number is expected to grow to 160 messages a day, with similar growth in storage requirements.

There are three reasons for using messaging archiving:

  • Storage management
  • Records management
  • Compliance

Storage management is the most universal driver for archiving. "These solutions allow you to shrink the storage footprint and dramatically reduce the backup and restore times," says Mike Gundling, VP of product management and marketing for Computer Associates’ iLumin division. "There’s a strong return on investment just from storage management. In fact, the growth in messaging requires storage management."

There are performance and reliability issues as well. Email programs tend to become unstable when their files become very large. As the volume of stored messages grows, the message databases are more likely to become corrupted. Above a certain point, response times will almost certainly slow down dramatically.

If storage management is about reining in exploding storage needs, records management is about treating email and IM messages as what they are—business documents, and often valuable business documents to boot.

Compliance involves storing and tracking messages because you’re legally required to do so. Of the three reasons for using messaging archiving, compliance is the one that’s evolving most rapidly—and the one with the most severe consequences for failing. To put it bluntly: While inadequate storage management or records management is expensive, inadequate compliance could send someone to jail.

The Problem with Email

The basic problem with email is that it has become something much more—something central to the enterprise, and something its original designers never imagined.

"Here you’ve got an application that was not in the beginning suitable at all for storing information for long periods," says Jens Rabe, director of compliance solutions at Open Text Corporation, a maker of document-management software. "It’s designed to support messaging and collaboration, but not long-term storage. It slows down dramatically when you store too much information in it."

From simple electronic mailboxes, email applications such as Exchange and Domino have evolved into the most active document-management systems in the enterprise. Today, programs like Exchange and Domino not only let you read email. In addition to storing messages, they store nearly any other kind of data the enterprise generates, from spreadsheets to videos. They also organize information, support collaboration, publish documents to the web, and provide many other functions. Of course, through all this other activity, the programs have to send and receive email (and now instant messages) efficiently and quickly for thousands or tens of thousands of users.

"In general, no one expected email to be used the way it is used today," says Nick Mehta, senior director of product management for the Enterprise Vault product line at Symantec. "Even if you listen to Microsoft people talk, they never really designed Exchange for mailboxes to grow to gigabyte size."

The job of email programs today is quite a load to put on even the best-architected software, and the wonder is that email and messaging software handles this work as well as it does. Of course, to some extent it’s like Dr. Johnson’s dog walking on its hind legs: The wonder isn’t that it does it well, but that it does it at all.

While email programs tend to be solid on email and collaboration, things get shakier around the edges. "It becomes bulky as the use of email explodes and the payload [size of messages] is also exploding," Ravi says. "Both of those result in fat and flabby Exchange, which is prone to corruption and problems as it gets bigger." Since Mimosa makes products for Exchange, Ravi is concerned mostly with Exchange, but the same problem occurs in any of the popular email systems.

The basic job of archiving software is to store and organize email and instant messages to take the load off the email system. This is usually done by "stubbing out" the messages—replacing the archived messages with pointers to the archiving system’s database. Beyond that, archiving software can have many different functions. I say can have because there are so many products out there with so many capabilities that it’s very hard to generalize.

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