Worldwide, the amount of e-mail is staggering. And it just keeps growing: IDC estimates that the volume has increased from 9.7 billion in 2000 to 97 billion in 2007. That's per day, by the way.
In the face of this onslaught, businesses small and large ask themselves: What do we do with it all?
One method of dealing with the volume is to constrain storage space. According to Brian Babineau, senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, 65% of organizations take such a "mailbox quota" approach to managing the load and place size limits on employee mailboxes. Although this approach addresses physical storage space, it forces employees to continually sort, delete, and store their e-mail messages to stay under quota. That steals precious time from other projects. It also frustrates employees accustomed to using free Web mail applications that offer virtually unlimited storage.
Fortunately, there's another option: e-mail archiving. Many companies are turning to e-mail archiving to ease their messaging woes. An e-mail archiving system isn't just backup: rather, it's an always-accessible message storehouse that can be searched and retrieved on an individual basis, as needed, almost as easily as live e-mail. Furthermore, archiving systems preserve message metadata -- important information such as where an e-mail came from, when it was sent, and the server path -- that's lost when messages are simply copied to disc or tape.
Why Archive E-Mail?
Some companies have no choice -- they're required to archive their e-mail. For example, SEC regulations (which, Babineau points out, apply equally to small brokerages and large Wall Street investment firms) require that financial services companies preserve e-mail and attachments in a nonalterable, nonerasable, searchable format for up to seven years.
Financial firms are hardly alone. Companies in other industries and locales also must comply with governmental regulations. "In the state of Florida, any correspondence with any public official is subject to public disclosure," says James Pelt, GIS/IT coordinator and network administrator for the city of Gulf Breeze, Fla. "Any citizen can request any e-mail of any official."
Pelt is required to keep all e-mails for at least five years. Before he installed an archiving system, Pelt relied on his Microsoft Exchange server's journaling feature to save a copy of all messages to a special mailbox. "Then once a month, I'd export that PST file, put it on a CD, label it, and file it. But the messages were just dumped into one big, undifferentiated mailbox."
Litigation preparedness is another common reason for archiving e-mail. Companies involved in lawsuits must be prepared to comply with "e-discovery" orders, or instructions to produce e-mails and other electronic information that might be relevant to the case. Some companies have been penalized millions of dollars and seen their legal positions damaged when they didn't produce old e-mails under court order.
The benefits of e-mail archiving systems extend beyond regulatory compliance and litigation preparedness. Many companies also realize productivity gains such as faster network performance and reduced spam.
On-Premise Archiving Means Quick Retrieval
As with other types of storage and servers, e-mail archiving systems can be on-premise installations or out-of-house hosted solutions.
When he gave up his ad-hoc CD archiving system, Pelt, chose to run the Trend Micro Message Archiver on a Windows Server 2003 box in his office. Like his old backup solution, the Archiver pulls e-mail from the Exchange server's journal mailbox, but rather than dumping all the messages into a digital drawer, it catalogs them by date, time, sender, attachment, and puts the information in an SQL database. Then the e-mail can be deleted from the Exchange server according to rules Pelt determines.
Such on-premise archiving solutions allow for speedy retrieval of archived messages. Systems like Pelt's, and the Cryoserver Archive from Forensic & Compliance Systems (FCS), can be configured to replace the archived e-mail with a "stub" on the primary server that looks like just another e-mail. Ralph Harvey, CRO of FCS, claims that it can actually be quicker to retrieve an e-mail from the archive server through a stub than it would be to retrieve it from the primary server.
Though quick message retrieval is appealing, on-premise solutions do require an additional server and must be configured and supported by in-house staff. FCS' Harvey advises that users considering an on-premises solution should make sure the "support annuity" -- the annual cost of supporting the server -- will be less than having the archive hosted, contending that it makes more sense to treat e-mail archiving as a capital expense rather than a revenue expense. And, he says, it's not always a rational choice. "Sometimes it's just an emotional decision," says Harvey. "A customer will say, 'I'm not letting my e-mail out of my infrastructure!' "
Hosted Solutions Shift Responsibility Outside
The alternative to on-premise archiving is hosted solutions that shift the support burden to a service provider. These solutions not only outsource support, but they also set costs at a fixed rate per user.
Matt Smith, president of hosted archiving provider LiveOffice, points to further benefits of hosted solutions: "A particular benefit for SMBs is that they're on the same infrastructure as a large enterprise -- an enterprise-class server," he says. "Implementation is rapid and nondisruptive, and it doesn't require a lot of technical expertise. Software update is automatic and immediate. And they have an outsourced help desk for managing the archive."
Mike Urman, senior VP of marketing and operations at the brokerage firm M.L. Stern, is convinced that a hosted solution makes sense for his company. "What we used to have was 100% on-premise," he says. "We were responsible for everything. But we're a brokerage firm, not an IT firm; we do have an IT staff, but we have to devote a lot more attention to the archive than our staff could handle." His company abandoned the on-premises solution in favor of the Fortiva Archiving Suite, a software-as-a-service package that captures all incoming and outbound e-mail.
Another customer who chose a hosted solution is the Integration Technology Group (ITG) in Merrifield, Va. According to Sung Yoon, an ITG network engineer, the company was looking to reduce the amount of time staff spent retrieving old e-mail from its tape-based backup system. It rejected the idea of an on-premises solution because, despite being a tech firm, it only had two people managing their whole network. After evaluating several systems, it decided on the Google Message Discovery service.
Ancillary Benefits of Archiving
Whether an archiving system is on-premise or hosted, companies can realize additional productivity benefits. One example: less spam. "We used to get a lot of spam," says Yoon, "about six or seven hundred messages a day. Now they're just not getting through. It's night and day."
This spam reduction was possible because ITG chose to route their e-mail through the Google mail centers before it goes to their servers. But even in scenarios where the archive is taking messages off the primary mail server (rather than intercepting them), users see productivity gains. James Pelt says, for example, "You don't keep your Exchange box loaded with old e-mails." That means everyday e-mail traffic is faster, and backup and retrieval is quicker.
Furthermore, e-mail archives contain what FCS's Harvey calls "a nice little store of intellectual property." According to Smith, up to 90% of a company's IP is contained in e-mail, and being able to monitor keywords, identify threads, and otherwise organize an archive of e-mail makes that IP accessible.
Having all the IP archived and searchable enables companies to maintain business continuity. When people leave the company or change positions, or if there's a disagreement about why a decision was made, it's easy to find the "paper trail" that contains the storehouse of valuable knowledge.
Regardless of the type of solution, smaller businesses can protect themselves from litigation, boost productivity, and ensure business continuity with by choosing an e-mail archiving system that meets their business needs.
How To Choose A Solution
Aside from the choice of on-premises versus hosted, a company should also investigate several other issues when selecting an e-mail archive vendor:
- As always, ask for references to existing customers. "You're establishing a partner who's holding your most sensitive information," says Matt Smith of LiveOffice.
- If you go with a hosted solution, ask for unlimited storage, so you have a predictable cost, advises Smith.
- "Don't underestimate the time and complexity of interrelated components," says FCS's Harvey. "You want this thing to be simple."
- Make sure the solution can scale upward as your e-mail volume grows.
- And last, says Smith, make sure you control your data. With an in-house solution, that's not an issue, but with a hosted solution, make sure to have control over what data gets purged, what gets exported, and so on.
With the right e-mail archiving solution in place, the question of "what to do with all that e-mail" is a lot easier to answer.