Editorial: Welcome to archiving hell

Welcome to archiving hell

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Welcome to archiving hell


So you have an email archiving system in place and the archived missives and related attachments are safely tucked away on a content-addressed storage (CAS) or similarly secure storage system. Toss in a slick search tool and maybe an ediscovery app and you're ready for anything a regulatory agency or contentious court of law could throw at you, right? Hopefully. Maybe. Then again, probably not.

While email has attained mission-critical status in most companies, instant messaging (IM) and digital phone systems haven't. And all three have something in common: They translate to digital storage in your systems. And digital stuff sitting on spinning disk has a chance of becoming crucial evidence.

Archiving only email could mean your company is exposed on those other two corporate communications fronts. And depending on how much your company uses IM and VoIP, that exposure could be considerable. The VoIP part should be pretty easy to determine as all incoming messages are saved to disk, and many VoIP systems can also provide fairly detailed information on outgoing calls. In addition, there are tools available that can record all incoming and outgoing calls even if they aren't saved as voice messages. With IM, if you're not monitoring conversations, you'd be hard-pressed to determine the volume of messaging going on and the storage capacity required to capture those exchanges.

In its annual litigation survey, the international law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski turned up some interesting statistics that revealed just how much work most companies have to do to get a handle on communications archiving. According to their survey, 70% of employees at companies with revenue of $1 billion use IM. Forty percent of those big businesses currently capture and retain IMs. Because IM is often used as an alternative to email--or with the expectation that what's sent via IM will escape detection--it's urgent that companies get a handle on this. Fulbright & Jaworski also reported that 40% of companies are capturing and retaining VoIP voicemail.

If you're currently archiving email, your archiving app might also be able to do the same thing with IMs. If it lacks that capability, there are a number of IM archiving programs available that can operate in standalone mode or even integrate with some email archivers. Similarly, products are available to handle VoIP archiving. Unified messaging systems can simplify archiving chores by putting email, VoIP messages and perhaps even IMs in the same archivable mailbox.

Regardless of how you decide to handle archiving for these additional communications facilities, there's one thing you probably know: Your archive has the potential to grow ... a lot. Depending on the specific traffic these communication applications generate in your office, your new capacity requirements could be substantial, especially if your company allows archive-bloating practices like attaching files to IMs.

Of course, all this archiving and data retention can make employees a little uneasy about their communication habits. For reasons ranging from malicious to not, employees often try to evade corporate controls by using noncorporate email systems for business correspondence. Skipping out to a Hotmail or Gmail account to dash off a nonarchivable message can effectively thwart archiving efforts. Barring access to these external services is about the best you can do to ensure that you don't have glaring gaps in the business communications you're tracking. Remember, not having a piece of requested data can hurt you just as much as being caught red-handed with the evidence.

This was first published in January 2008

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