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Rein in e-mail storage

Ezine

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Cutting down on spam

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There are two simple and relatively painless steps administrators can take to stem the flow of spam into their organization.
Implement a DNS real-time blacklist filter.
This filter obtains its information from a central service--of which many are free--that maintains a list of known spam providers. The filter checks the source of each incoming email against known spam providers and rejects any e-mails coming from these providers and plugs directly into e-mail servers like Lotus Domino.
Validate e-mail using full MX records.
Mail Exchange (MX) records may be used to verify that an e-mail from, for example, joe@storage.com really came from a mail server within storage.com such as mail.storage.com, not from spam.com. Spammers may embed the joe@storage.com and storage.com address in their e-mail that may allow it to bypass the DNS blacklist filter. However, the MX records function will reveal and confirm the true source of the e-mail server by checking with the real storage.com to see if joe@storage.com exists somewhere on storage.com. If he does, the e-mail goes through. But if he does not, this service prevents the e-mail from entering the organization.

Mailbox management
As storage managers help e-mail administrators document and understand their e-mail environment, the next step is to proactively manage their e-mail servers. Before managers begin to deploy any management tools, however, they should first identify what tasks they want to accomplish.

Initial tasks will most likely include spam filtering and deletion, along with a cleanup and compression of older messages located in the e-mail database. From there, storage managers will want to start archiving these older messages and improving the quality of the backups and restores. Once these tasks are identified, storage managers should then see if the management tools existing in the current e-mail application meet their needs before looking to deploy additional third-party software.

Lotus Domino, Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise all contain management tools that allow administrators to perform certain basic administrative tasks. For instance, the latest release of each e-mail product allows users to set policies that delete e-mails after they have reached a certain age. Exchange 2003 gives users the option to choose when the online database compaction runs. This procedure compacts the database by defragmenting the data in the database files.

Novell GroupWise offers the GWCheck utility that has options for everything from analyzing and fixing databases for a post office to purging all messages that contain a specified subject.

The problem with most of these utilities is that once you get into larger environments with multiple e-mail database instances, it may become much too laborious for a single group of storage administrators to manage. Also, as e-mail messaging becomes more regulated, organizations will need to rethink any existing policies that automatically delete all e-mails that are 60 or 90 days old or enforce user mailbox quotas. At these points, companies need to simplify the management of these tasks through the use of third-party tools.

Some products tag e-mails for compliance reasons and automatically archive older e-mails by placing them on appropriately-priced storage. For example, Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek), in Louisville, CO, has a product called Email Xcelerator, which contains an ArchiveMaster option that enables administrators to meet either advanced business or legal requirements for e-mail message archival. In addition to the automatic archiving of older e-mails, it permits administrators to set up policies that allow for messages and attachments to be migrated to the appropriate level of media. For instance, if certain messages need to be kept on write once, read many (WORM) media, policies can be set within ArchiveMaster that migrate messages from its current location to the WORM media.

Another area that administrators need to exert more control over is the e-mail's content. For example, Sherpa Software's Mail Attender 6.0 filters some content by preventing a user from sending e-mail to certain recipients.

ZipLip's Content Filtering Suite manages archived e-mail by generating a hierarchically searchable index on headers, messages and attachments that allows administrators to audit their existing e-mail message stores for Exchange, Domino and GroupWise environments.

E-mail attachments also need to be better controlled. Some of these issues are now handled in the e-mail applications themselves. For instance, if a user sends out an e-mail to 50 other users with a 2MB attachment, this attachment could in theory consume 102MB of disk space, 2MB in the sent mailbox of the user who sent it and 2MB in each recipient's mailbox.

The latest releases of Microsoft Exchange address this issue. Rather than sending a copy of the attachment to each user's inbox, it keeps one copy of the attachment and puts a link to the attachment in the other users' e-mails. Both Lotus Domino and Novell GroupWise have offered similar single store functionality for a number of years, but even here third-party products complement this feature.

Take AttachStor Inc.'s StorOnce, for example (see "AttachStor reclaims e-mail storage"). StorOnce, which is part of the AttachStor Suite, is installed as an add-on to Microsoft Outlook clients. It transparently compresses and encrypts e-mail message attachments, presenting the user with a link to the file stored on the central AttachStor server.

This technology especially shines for mobile users. Road warriors can download all of their e-mail with a thumbnail view of their attachments. If they want to view an attachment, they can choose to download the ones they want, as opposed to downloading every single attachment in their inbox.

In Lotus Notes environments, Exivity Inc., Westford, MA, has a product called AtomicDispatch, which provides a similar single instance message store capability. However, it handles the message store differently than StorOnce in two ways: First, it intercepts the message before the mail router and scans the size of the message. If it exceeds the established threshold, it replaces the message with a link and stores the message in its central database.

This was first published in February 2004

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