Constellation Energy thought it had its e-mail backup problems solved in mid-2005 when it attached a 3 terabyte...
Reference Information Storage System (RISS) archiving box from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) to its Exchange servers.
But while the archiving tool improved the company's ability to retain ever-expanding mailbox data, it ultimately turned out not to complete the picture.
According to Constellation's director of enterprise security, John Petruzzi, his industry has been hit especially hard by regulatory compliance issues, and the company is frequently the subject of audits and requests for specific documents from regulators. Many specific rules are also unique to the energy industry -- for example, in a company like Constellation, which sells both bulk and retail energy, the two business units are not permitted to communicate with one another.
After installing the RISS box, Petruzzi said, "some [regulators'] requests became onerous without the ability to search e-mail in a very granular way."
Regulators often wanted to see, for example, communications between two specific parties, within a narrow time frame, and only when those communications involved a certain subject. The regulators also wanted to see into documents attached to the e-mails.
"RISS' search feature just didn't have the granularity we needed," Petruzzi said. "Searches like that were taking around two weeks, between searching for the e-mails, extracting the data, and then organizing it into an intelligible format for the auditor."
Constellation was already familiar with a tool from Clearwell Systems Inc. that would boost its e-mail analysis capabilities and speed things up. Clearwell's Email Intelligence Platform officially debuted this week. Constellation signed up to be a beta tester of the product late in 2005.
Petruzzi said finding Clearwell took some time -- and there appeared to be little competition for the e-mail analysis product in the marketplace.
"It would've been nice to compare products," Petruzzi said. "But there just weren't any others out there. There wasn't even a combination of products we could put together to get the same capabilities."
Today, Petruzzi said, e-mail discovery for regulatory requests takes around 48 hours, "and that includes extracting the data and putting it into a format so we can sit an auditor down at a console and say, 'here's everything you need to know.' "
According to Petruzzi, the Email Intelligence Platform includes an interface that puts search data into organized threads. Graphs show how many results were returned for each search parameter -- for example, that out of communications between two parties, 25% match the keywords the auditor wants to see.
"Of course, it's not just about meeting compliance requirements," Petruzzi said. "There are also some dollars we're saving by not having to go through the manual search process."
How it works
The software, compatible with all major archiving platforms via an adapter, works by using proprietary linguistic and statistical algorithms that are in some ways similar to page rankings on major search engines -- sorting out how many replies an e-mail generated, for example, and how many other messages point to a certain message. The software also looks into aspects of the e-mail application, such as Active Directory in the case of Exchange, in order to see who is sending a message.
It's a relatively new concept -- and, for that matter, a brand-new company. Clearwell officially launched the same day as its product, Jan. 23.
So why hasn't anyone done this before?
"The business use of e-mail has increased," said Kamal Shah, vice president of marketing for the new startup. "It has eclipsed voice mail as a messaging system. Meanwhile, businesses today are under much greater scrutiny -- and e-mail has come to be viewed as a source of truth."
Shah referenced several recent court cases that had hinged on e-mail, including the Microsoft antitrust case in which Bill Gates was incriminated in part by some of his e-mail conversations.
As a beta tester, Constellation often found itself requesting tweaks to the product and its interface, and still would like to see the new product expand its capabilities, Petruzzi said.
"The next thing we're looking for in our industry is the ability to search instant messaging [IM] the same way," Petruzzi said. "We're concerned with how much business may be conducted over that."
According to Petruzzi, Clearwell had promised this feature with version 2.0 of the Email Intelligence Platform, due out in the fourth quarter of 2006.
Shah said he could not confirm any specific release date, but did say that IM analysis was something the company was working on.
As for HP, public relations manager for the HP StorageWorks ILM group David Martin said that developing more in-depth search capabilities for RISS was not a priority.
"That's a grey area for us," he said, adding that were a customer to request deeper e-mail analysis, HP would probably partner with a startup to provide the software.
"It's on our roadmap to do more," Martin said. "But right now it's not that big an issue."
With regard to Clearwell and Constellation Energy, Martin said, "That's the first I've heard of it."
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