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Satisfy electronic discovery requests
Backups are also used to satisfy electronic discovery requests, which can be even more challenging. Let's use the most common electronic discovery request as an example: a request for e-mails that match a particular pattern and were sent via an Exchange server. (The following also applies to other e-mail systems, such as Lotus Notes or SMTP.) There are two big problems with using backups to satisfy such a request. The first is that it's impossible to retrieve all e-mails sent or received by a particular person. It's only possible to restore the e-mails that were in the Exchange server when backups were made. If the discovery request is looking for an e-mail that somebody sent, deleted and then cleared from their Deleted Items folder, it wouldn't be on that night's backup, and thus would never show up when attempting to retrieve it weeks, months or years later. It would therefore be technically impossible to meet the discovery request using backups. This means that even after doing your best to successfully satisfy the discovery request, a plaintiff may claim you haven't proven your case.

The second problem with using backups to satisfy an Exchange electronic discovery request is that it's very difficult to retrieve months or years of e-mails using backups. Suppose, for example, a company performs a full backup of its Exchange server once a week, and for compliance reasons it stores these backups

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for seven years. If the company received an electronic discovery request for e-mails from the last seven years, it would need to perform many restores of its entire Exchange server to satisfy the request. The first step would be to restore the Exchange server to an alternate server using last week's backup. Next, you would have to run a query against Exchange to look for the e-mails in question, saving them to a .pst file. You would then have to restore the Exchange server using the backup from two weeks ago, rerun the query and create another .pst file. It would be necessary to restore the entire Exchange server 364 times (seven years multiplied by 52 weeks) before you're done. And almost every step in this process will have to be done manually.

The above scenario isn't impossible to accomplish, but the recovery effort will entail an incredible amount of time and money. A plaintiff in a civil suit or the government doesn't care how much it costs the defendant; your company has a court order to produce the e-mails regardless of cost.

This was first published in September 2006

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