Feature

Instant messaging shouldn't strain storage

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Instant messaging (IM) may seem unruly and troublesome compared to e-mail because it's most commonly downloaded on-the-fly by users, and often without any awareness on the part of IT. But controlling IM shouldn't give storage managers much reason to worry, as the integration of e-mail and IM archiving should result in minimal backup impact.

"This has been a very disruptive technology; it's been back-doored into the enterprise," says Christopher Dean, senior VP of business development at FaceTime Communications, Foster City, CA, a vendor that offers security products for IM, file sharing and Web conferencing. Most interesting, adds Dean, is that only a very small percentage of enterprises have been able to form retention, auditing and storage policies for IM.

Nevertheless, IM usage should have little effect on storage. That's largely because e-mail archive and IM security vendors are tying their products together, a trend sparked in 2003 with a clarification in financial laws mandating that companies retain both e-mail and IM records. That trend picked up momentum with Symantec's acquisition of IMlogic at the beginning of this year. In July, e-mail archiver AXS-One announced a formal partnership with FaceTime, whereby AXS-One will rebrand and resell FaceTime as part of its archiving system. In fact, most major e-mail archive vendors have informal partnership agreements with IM vendors like FaceTime and Akonix Systems.

The way this integration typically

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works makes IM nearly transparent to storage. Public IM screen names or corporate IM user IDs are mapped to the company's LDAP directory. After that, the IM system can log a conversation from the moment a chat window is opened until it's closed by either participant. The transcript is then passed to the archive system via SMTP or XML as an e-mail message.

The net result is that companies will still only need to back up and set retention policies for the e-mail archive system. And because IM messages are so small, there isn't a huge increase in backup or archive volumes.

"One of the things we see every year is [that] the number of e-mail messages we send goes up, and the size of the average e-mail message goes up," says Dave Hunt, CEO at e-mail management applications vendor C2C Systems. "An IM traffic thread is actually pretty small--you're talking about 1[KB] or 2KB."

Brian Erdelyi, information security officer at Blackmont Capital, Toronto, says archiving IM has added no noticeable storage requirements. "We archive about 30GB of e-mail per month and I would estimate under 100MB [of IM data] for that same time period," Erdelyi writes in an e-mail.

The only aspect of IM backup to consider would be the database that carries information on the corporate directory fields, screen name associations and IM policies; but even there, the storage hit is expected to be minimal.

"Policies don't tend to change very often once they're set," says Don Montgomery, VP of marketing at Akonix Systems, which offers an integrated IM management hardware/software product. "The message store is going off into an e-mail archive instead of a backup archive, so that's been flushed; that pretty much leaves the directories and the policy configurations," says Montgomery. Because the entire disk size of Akonix's appliance is only about 8GB, "you can back up the entire disk every night," he adds.

IM has been more of a retention headache for the financial services sector, but other companies are thinking more seriously about their communications policies as a whole. Montgomery says Akonix has moved beyond the point of evangelizing about IM. "Now we're getting people coming to us and saying, 'I really better get my electronic messaging in order, and the IM component is my orphan child right now.'"

--Trina MacDonald

This was first published in October 2006

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