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E-mail archivers keep companies legit

E-mail archiving accessories

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For some e-mail archiving applications, you'll need a specialized appliance or software that's specifically tailored to your archiving requirements. Some options to consider include:
Write once, ready many (WORM) media. EMC's Centera, Network Appliance's SnapLock disk systems, Plasmon's UDO and StorageTek's 9840 VolSafe tapes all offer ways to store and protect e-mail messages for years or decades in unalterable formats.
Centralized database. While most e-mail archiving products maintain and manage only their own database, CommVault's QiNetix suite allows users to integrate, catalog and search data across their backup, e-mail, storage management and migration products.
Protecting desktop e-mail. Companies that need to protect .pst files residing on desktops and laptops should consider products such as LinkPro's PowerSync, which lets users sync .pst files between local e-mail files and central stores.
Storage scalability. Administrators can easily underestimate future e-mail growth, both in terms of message volume and the size of attachments. Midrange arrays like Hitachi Data Systems' 9500 or ATA products like Nexsan's ATABeast allow users to scale their back-end storage at price points that meet different e-mail archiving performance and availability requirements.
Data protection. Just because e-mails are archived doesn't mean they're protected. Don't forget to apply an appropriate level of backup and recovery for your e-mail archive application and stored messages.
Features and functions
Most e-mail products give admins the ability to apply policies by message, mailbox, user, group or globally. The law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York, for example, has established that e-mails are the property of its clients--not of the firm. It sets up e-mail archive policies based upon the retention requirements of clients.

The ability to search e-mail archives by key words or phrases is a critical feature in keeping users happy and auditors satisfied. Archiving tools speed and improve the search process because they create their own indexes separate from the e-mail server. Equally important, the archiving software breaks apart e-mail attachments and indexes the content of these documents, allowing searches and discoveries to be done on these as well. For instance, Veritas' Enterprise Vault supports more than 250 types of attachments, and can break open and index documents in a variety of formats, including .pdf, .xls and .ocr.

Users need to be conscious of their search and discovery requirements if they want a single product to search their primary e-mail storage and archived e-mail. Some products index archived messages and messages still on the e-mail server, so all messages across the e-mail infrastructure can be searched. Companies may also find it advantageous to buy backup and e-mail archiving software from the same vendor. But Denise Reier, a vice president at EMC/Legato, was forthright in saying that her firm's EmailXtender and NetWorker software are independent products and that no particular benefits would be derived by purchasing both from EMC/Legato, save holding one vendor accountable for support.

E-mail administrators will also find improved performance on their e-mail server once the appropriate e-mails are archived. Moving this data off the primary e-mail server to an archive improves server efficiency in at least two ways. First, it reduces system overhead by eliminating the need for the e-mail database to store and manage all of the messages. Second, it reduces the backup and recovery window of the e-mail server because fewer messages reside on the server.

Not all archiving features reduce the server load. For users looking to archive all messages in real-time as they enter their system, most e-mail archiving products require users to take advantage of features native to the e-mail server product, such as message journaling on an Exchange server. Enabling this feature causes the message server to capture and send a copy of each e-mail message to the archive server, but it also adds a load of anywhere between 5% to 20% to the e-mail server. In some instances, vendors recommend not using this feature, especially if budgets are tight and you're not in an industry scrutinized by regulators. One e-mail consultancy recommends archiving messages once they're seven days old. Users will have deleted most of the messages they don't want or need by that point, and the number of messages that need to be archived will be reduced.

Another archiving feature detaches e-mail attachments from the primary e-mail store as they come into the system, leaving a link that lets a user open the attachment. This feature is especially appealing to dial-up users who don't want to waste precious time downloading large files. But it should be implemented carefully, as the link may not reveal sufficient information about the contents of the e-mail, possibly causing users to miss important e-mail attachments.

For some businesses, notably financial services, instant messaging (IM) systems may require the same kind of archiving and search-and-retrieval capabilities. While many e-mail archiving applications also support IM, make sure your vendor supports the particular IM product your company uses.

Despite the existence of central mailboxes, some users still elect to keep thousands of e-mails on their PCs, stored in local files such as Exchange .pst files. To address this potential liability, tools such as Legato EmailXtender offer administrators the ability to crawl the LAN and archive older messages from locally stored .pst files.

Implementation and maintenance
Once an e-mail archiving package makes it in the door, administrators begin managing the product. While administrators should always proceed cautiously with any new product install, this is especially true for an e-mail archiving tool because e-mail has become a critical application for many companies.

Nearly every vendor has had some missteps associated with early releases of their products. C2C Systems Ltd., Springfield, MA, for example, reported that early versions of its Archive One product didn't include a throttling feature to regulate archiving activity. Without throttling, archiving a year's worth of old messages could consume so many CPU cycles that e-mail servers would have trouble processing new messages. Archive One now includes a setting that limits the amount of e-mail it can archive at any one time.

Vendors recommend that users take a few preparatory steps when implementing e-mail tools:

  • Schedule the initial archiving processes to run during off hours or on weekends when e-mail activity is low.
  • Don't archive all old e-mails at once. Rather, use policies within the tool that limit the amount of e-mail that's archived during any period of time. For instance, if your business needs to retain e-mails for five years, set your policy to only archive e-mails up to five years old.
  • Start archiving messages within less-visible user folders, such as the sent and deleted folders, rather than immediately archiving in-box messages.
  • Begin an e-mail archiving effort with a test involving a small set of users and then gradually add more users.

The reporting capabilities of archiving applications should also be addressed during the implementation period. Reports generally fall into two categories, capacity and compliance. On the capacity side, reports should provide basic information, such as the number of e-mails archived daily, the total number of e-mails archived, the amount of archived storage and the number of e-mails scheduled for deletion. For compliance, auditors tend to be most interested in documentation of user and password management, backups and restores of the e-mail archive, and version management of the e-mail archiving software.

Once an e-mail archiving system is fully implemented, administrators report few, if any, issues other than routinely applying patches and upgrades as they become available. It's important to note that patches or upgrades to e-mail systems may affect e-mail archiving programs. The City of Oceanside's Sherwood found that because of the frequency of security patches coming out of Microsoft, he occasionally had to wait until the patch was certified by the Enterprise Vault software before he could apply it to his Exchange server.

However, the biggest issues surrounding e-mail archiving are ever-evolving governmental regulations. Selecting an e-mail archiving product that's a good fit with your storage environment is the easy part; interpreting and complying with regulations is a lot tougher. In the end, creating an effective and workable e-mail archiving process is a company-wide process.

This was first published in February 2005

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