Avoiding common e-mail storage policy mistakes

What is your companies e-mail policy? Are e-mails purged after a set time or are they retained? Bob Spruzem uncovers the benefits of a good e-mail policy.

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As a result of new regulations and demand for legal discovery, de facto storage policies that apply to e-mail message servers must be examined. The practice of destroying e-mail and using backup tapes for legal discovery can create an unnecessary risk and financial burden for business today. New e-mail storage technologies can reduce the cost of storing e-mail and provide significant benefits to businesses and employees

The most common e-mail storage policy mistake is to "delete-all" e-mail (with few exceptions) after 30 or 60 days. The rationale for this policy is to reduce the volume of e-mail that must be located and reviewed in the event of litigation and to reduce the amount of e-mail stored on the e-mail server. Contrary to popular opinion, this policy tends to increase liability rather than lessen it. First, organizations that adopt automatic deletion policies need to be mindful of potential liability for spoliation of evidence. Second, and perhaps most important, businesses should understand that adopting a policy of deleting all e-mail will likely result in the deletion of e-mail that may be potentially helpful in litigation.

When challenged to produce archived e-mail pursuant to legal discovery requests, most organizations do not have data stored and indexed for easy retrieval. Compliance often means searching vaulted backup tapes and restoring old copies of e-mail servers. Large organizations with year's worth of e-mail and multiple e-mail servers are faced with an enormous challenge. The discovery process can be very expensive and laborious to message and storage administrators who have few available cycles outside their day-to-day operational responsibilities.

A common practice to reduce the demand for storage on the e-mail server is to save e-mail on personal folders (.pst files). These "PST files" create a personal copy of an e-mail and at the same time create a discovery nightmare. If an e-mail is sent to 100 users, that e-mail is stored once on the e-mail server. However, if each recipient saves that e-mail in a PST file, it creates 100 separate files. Email stored locally in personal folders is not exempt from discovery request. Instead of having to search only the central servers and backups for relevant e-mail, businesses must now search each of their employees' desktop computers for relevant e-mail.

A better approach

As we begin our discussion of a better approach to e-mail storage management, it is important to note that not every business should use the same approach to e-mail retention. In developing an appropriate email policy, each organization must carefully evaluate how it does business, regulatory and other legal requirements that must be complied with, and the value of the information contained in electronic communications. In many instances, a better approach is to save e-mail rather than delete it. Tools and technology are available to create and index an on-line e-mail repository, enabling e-mail to be searched quickly – a valuable benefit for legal compliance. Such repositories can be easier, more cost-effective and enable better compliance than either deleting e-mail or storing e-mail in personal folders. Given the declining cost of archival storage, the cost savings associated with a legal request to search all existing e-mail will likely greatly outweigh the technology costs associated with its storage.

In addition to the legal implications of e-mail, many businesses are overlooking the intrinsic value of e-mail. Studies show that the vast majority of information contained in a business's e-mail is never integrated into its corporate knowledge base. Not adopting an e-mail deletion policy may result in the irretrievable loss of important organizational knowledge. Using an e-mail repository, employees can quickly access important company information contained in old e-mail – an important benefit for both existing and new employees. While e-mail repositories are often created in reaction to new legal requirements, organizations discover they offer even greater value by enabling e-mail data mining.

It is hard to imagine any business today operating without e-mail. Yet the reliance on e-mail for business communication has created a potential liability and raises concerns for corporate compliance and user productivity. It is the responsibility of each organization to understand its operating environment and analyze the benefits of modifying its e-mail storage policy to save e-mail in a corporate e-mail repository.

About the author:


Bob Spurzem (rspurzem@att.net) is a Principal Analyst with Contoural Inc. an independent provider of storage consulting and storage education services. He has been closely involved in the storage industry for the six years as a Product Marketing Manager with leading storage software vendors.
This was first published in September 2003

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