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Tame e-mail storage - before it eats you alive

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Hyperbole-loving analysts love to talk about how we're generating more data now than ever before. They say there will be more data generated in the next two years than in all of human history. And while exact numbers are hazy, anybody dealing with storage knows that corporate e-mail is fueling the data explosion fire.

Once a novelty, e-mail has become the backbone of modern business. Research firm IDC estimates corporate e-mail volumes have increased 29% annually, from 9.7 billion per day in 2000 to 16.2 billion this year and 20.9 billion daily messages in 2003. That's 7.6 trillion e-mails next year.

Do you know where you're going to store your share? More importantly, do you know how to keep them all available so users can still access them, auditors and lawyers can pore over them and executives can intercept them if necessary?

Of course, the problem of e-mail management is much different than simply backing up files and storing a tape on a shelf. Today's enterprise depends on that information to be available, and as users depend more and more on their e-mail, the volume of information that needs to be available is exploding.

A recent survey by Osterman Research, Black Diamond, WA, found the average Microsoft Exchange user's mailbox consumed 72MB of disk space. The survey found one in six users have a mailbox larger than 100MB, and the median number of e-mails sent and received is 53. Accommodating this growth, which will only get worse, has placed a significant

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burden on storage administrators.

E-mail management programs
Finally recognizing the beast that e-mail has become, a number of storage vendors have recently released products specifically designed to reduce e-mail storage requirements while automating the archiving, aging and retrieval of e-mails.

StorageTek, Louisville, CO, cast its lot in March with the release of Email Xcelerator, which integrates with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes servers to provide policy-based e-mail management. The suite incorporates Email Archive Manager, which intercepts all sent and received e-mails and sends copies onto near-line backup, Email Content Manager, which automatically indexes those e-mails and lets users later search through the message store when they need to and Application Storage Manager, which moves archived e-mails between different storage types - for example, from slow IDE near-line storage to tape - and deletes them according to user-defined rules.

Total e-mail messages sent and received per user, per day

Bill Tolson, a senior industry solutions consultant with StorageTek, blames users' packrat mentality for the need to better manage e-mail requirements. "The vast majority of users are using their e-mail systems as filing systems," he says. "Most e-mail systems are already overloaded, and in most companies storage administrators will fix this by imposing a limit on users' e-mail boxes. But by imposing a mailbox limit, you're causing end users to make decisions as to what they delete."

One alternative to imposing limits, though, has been to give users larger size limits - or no limits at all - on their e-mail inboxes. But lack of size limits causes its own problems, as Ontario, Canada-based Dofasco, found out. The company, Canada's second largest steel manufacturer, found that its 7,000 e-mail users quickly consumed most of the approximately 400GB of space spread across the four post office servers supporting its Exchange 5.5 environment.

"We were out of space on the Exchange servers and either had to buy more servers or ask people to delete any old mail," says Terry Chisholm, Dofasco's divisional account representative for information systems. "We didn't get a lot of response from that, and most people claimed they needed to keep their mail. They were using Exchange as a file store, but we were over 90% full on our servers." Dofasco eventually implemented Ixos-eCONserver for Microsoft Exchange from Ixos Software AG, of Munich, Germany. eCONserver helped Dofasco set up an e-mail management policy in which messages were kept online for six months, then moved onto a Hewlett-Packard write once read many (WORM) jukebox.

The jukebox holds 56 WORM disks, and each disk stores around 9GB of data in a format suitable for legal discovery. The solution reduced Dofasco's storage requirements by 40%, and the jukebox now stores more than three years' worth of messages. New employees are given a 50MB space limit, and existing users are given around 100MB and the offer to build .PST files containing any messages over that limit.

Once the jukebox fills up - in around two more years, Chisholm estimates - WORM disks are cycled through the jukebox. If messages are needed that are more than five years old, old disks can be loaded into the jukebox.

The dangers of failing to maintain out-of-date information become clear when lawsuits require extensive discovery of archived e-mails. One such case, Linnen v A.H. Robbins Co., Inc., cost the Massachusetts-based company more than $1.1 million to search 823 backup tapes for e-mails related to 15 employees in question. The increased scrutiny on corporate accountability - particularly due to the requirements of the SEC's new Rule 17a-4 - has heightened the chance of having to manage a mass e-mail recovery.

Using automated e-mail management systems, recovery can be affected by using a Web interface to search through indexed archives and deliver results - and messages - instantly. Such indexes are maintained regardless of where messages end up, allowing storage administrators to move old messages onto cheaper, slower storage.

The vast majority of e-mails are never needed after 30 days. Using this as a guideline, you can reduce e-mail systems' use of online storage. Captured e-mails, for example, might be initially stored on fast disk arrays for seamless access, and then moved to slower IDE disks after 30 days. After 90 days, they could be moved onto tape, where they're still accessible to users. After the statutory seven years, the data can then be scrubbed using automatic e-mail aging features.

This was first published in October 2002

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