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E-mail: It's worse than you think

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Software for Message Management
Low-level software that supports

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write once, read many (WORM) verifiability is one thing; software that helps you manage, archive, and/or sample electronic communications is quite another. Here's a sampling of packages to consider:

Legato EmailXtender. This is actually a family of products that includes EmailXtender itself for centralized administration; EmailArchive for policy-based archiving with Exchange; and EmailXaminer for compliance management and sampling. EMC purchased Legato in July.

Veritas Edition for Microsoft Exchange 2000. Basically, this package helps you manage Exchange storage so the mail server is easier to administer and configure across a variety of storage systems. It aids in recovery and performance optimization as well.

Tumbleweed Messaging Management System. This is a platform, rather than a product, with several different components that sit outside the mailstream and examine message content--and perform specific actions based on regulations. Antispam and antivirus components are part of the suite.

iLumin Assentor Enterprise. This software suite provides industrial-strength message management and archiving, with special emphasis on the needs of the financial services industry. Assentor Compliance inspects messages and manages mail; Assentor Discovery is for retrieving and reviewing archived messages.

KVS Enterprise Vault. Originating in the U.K., this highly regarded suite of e-mail archiving, retention and retrieval software integrates with the journaling features of Exchange to store and retrieve e-mails for compliance purposes.

FaceTime Communications IM Director. Yes, instant messages are considered electronic communications, too. IM Director adds logging, archiving, and security to instant messaging, essentially turning instant messages into e-mail messages that can be archived and retrieved.

Where the regulations roam
While some may be reluctant to impose rules, others have rules thrust upon them. The small Manhattan brokerage firm Abel/Noser must deal with the modern version of Securities and Exchange Commission rules first adopted in 1934. According to Abel/Noser compliance officer Ravi Jethmal, the SEC and NASD "require broker dealers to monitor a certain percentage of all ingoing, outgoing and interoffice e-mails and require the broker dealer to maintain and store all e-mails on non-corruptible electronic media (such as WORM) for a minimum of three years."

Ryan Farley saw his first write once, read many (WORM) drive when he came to work at Abel/Noser as a senior systems engineer over a year ago. "Right now, from where we started with the system, we have just about every e-mail that has come into the company," says Farley. About six months before Farley started at Abel/Noser, the company deployed Legato's EmailXtender and EmailXaminer. The former is a policy-based system that automatically collects, organizes, stores and retrieves e-mail messages and attachments. The latter periodically dips into the mail stream and samples e-mails according to their content, in accordance with SEC and NASD rules.

One of the challenges presented by these regulations, says Gartner's DiCenzo, is the stipulation that organizations have "the information in an active archive. You must be able to recover it in hours, not days or weeks. This is why the push to an intermediate disk archive has become popular. It's not just a secondary storage media; it's a program that allows for access of data directly to the archive in a query kind of way."

That's exactly what Abel/Noser has implemented. "Basically, an additional mailbox is created on the Exchange server, and for every single message that comes in, a copy of it is also forwarded to that mailbox," says Farley. "From there, it goes into a Windows message queue on the Xtender server. And from there, it's put into container files, put into a SQL database, random samples are made for the compliance side of it, and then when the container file gets large enough, it's burnt onto the optical disk." In addition, says Farley, "We run complete backups every day onto LTO tape off our file server, which holds all the e-mail files, all the PSTs."

Legato has several de facto safeguards against tampering during the few weeks it takes for e-mail to be stored on magnetic disk. "The SQL logs will show what stuff was sampled," says Farley. "And if anyone looked through our samples, they would be able to see chunks of dates missing if anything was tampered with. The program goes in between the SQL database and the mail server, and there's no way to interface with it directly, at least no way that would be conceivable with Legato's format."

Farley finds that retrieving messages using Xtender is easy--both a Web-based query tool and an Outlook plug-in are provided--and that he can retrieve an e-mail from the WORM archive in less than a minute. On the other hand, Abel/Noser has only a year's worth of e-mails on the system, and he's not sure how it will scale over time. "It's possible we might have to start cycling WORM disks out once we maintain [them] three years," he says. He admits that cycling disks would make the restore procedure "ridiculous," but he also thinks it's pretty unlikely that he would need to restore an e-mail more than a year old.

Although Farley has been happy overall with the system, his experience hasn't been problem free. Recently, the system experienced a hard drive problem that required a complete restore. "The only thing that I don't like about Xtender is, when problems have come up, the support hasn't been what I've wanted it to be," says Farley. "There are basically three components to a good product: how easy it is to use, how well it takes care of itself and what happens when it breaks. This product is easy to use and fairly stable, but the times I've had problems with it, I've found myself disappointed in some of the support."

The scourge of spam
Not even the most solicitous vendor support can stop the vexing nuisance that is spam. An accurate estimate of the percentage of spam among business e-mails is hard to come by--some say it's as high as 50%--but everyone agrees that the scourge of junk e-mail continues to rise, with no end in sight. In an era of scarce IT resources, it's infuriating to think that as much as half of the cost of an e-mail infrastructure is being eaten by parasites.

At a San Francisco public relations firm that uses Lotus Domino, an IT director who prefers to remain anonymous (I'll call him "George") confirms that, by the end of 2002, spam had begun to hover at the 50% level for many of his 100 or so users. In a PR company where reps bill by the hour, time spent sifting through junk e-mail is just "cash out the window," says George. And not only were local personnel and system resources being squandered, but so were backup time and space at an off-site co-lo site, where the company nightly uploads a snapshot of the entire network.

This was first published in August 2003

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