Don't give in to e-mail retention hype

Bits & Bytes: Much is being made about e-mail retention, maybe too much. John Weinhoeft says this may be a good time to review your policy, but don't buy into the vendor hype.

Vendors are always looking for the next big thing so the marketing pitch can be fine tuned to the latest boardroom fear.A few years ago it was Y2K. Last year it was HIPPA. This year it looks to be e-mail retention.

Vendors are already moving to accommodate this trend. Two years ago almost no one was talking about content management. This year content management announcements seem to occur weekly. You can buy software or hardware or some combination including intelligent disk-based content management subsystems. E-mail retention is just a subset of document content management.

Before being overwhelmed by the hype, sit back and take a calm look at your current environment. Think of it as an exercise in disaster recovery. How are you managing e-mail and document backup today? What are your backup cycles and retention periods? Does whatever you have in place work for you today? Now perform a risk assessment. Is your industry covered by the financial reporting requirements? Do your retention periods match what is needed?

I would guess most companies are still using tape somewhere in the backup cycle since tape is still the cheapest long term storage media. Tape also has some of the best archival characteristics. Enterprise class (mainframe) tape can be reliably stored and read up to ten years later. Assuming full backups are taken weekly, retention of weekly backup tapes may be a reasonable approach. It will definitely be a cheap approach.

Yes, restoration of the entire e-mail environment in order to answer an inquiry summons can be costly. Realistically only a few companies will have to do such a drastic action, usually in response to charges of financial shenanigans. This will sound cynical but at that point no one inside the company being investigated will be worried about the cost of the extra equipment and work to get the information back.

Bottom line: maybe what you already have will, with minor changes, be adequate for your company. Consider document and content management software for the real benefits that can be achieved, not in a knee jerk response to the "latest big problem".



About John Weinhoeft:

For the past 30-plus years John Weinhoeft has had his hand in the computer industry. He recently retired from designing and managing the State of Illinois' centralized computer systems that served 100 agencies. John has authored and edited a number of analytical books published by Computer Technology Research Corporation. He is, or has been, a member of several computer organizations including the Computer Measurement Group and Central Illinois Personal Computer Users Group.

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Do you want to see more articles by John Weinhoft or insights from noted industry observers? Visit the complete Bits & Bytes column library.

This was first published in June 2003

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