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For British town, e-mail archiving is best defense

Wigan Council in the U.K. is embarking on an e-mail archiving project in anticipation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Wigan Council, the governing body overseeing a town of 300,000 in the north of England, has, like many British...

towns, started to archive its e-mail in anticipation of the recently passed Freedom of Information Act, which will give British citizens greatly expanded access to government information.

But Paul Fairhurst, infrastructure manager for the town council's 4,000 employees, said that archiving e-mail is also a preemptive move against "wily lawyers" hired by disgruntled former employees. Those lawyers know the cost and complexity of restoring e-mail servers from backup tapes, and will sometimes request their client's old e-mails as evidence, knowing full well that the IT staff will have to make a Herculean effort to retrieve them. Fairhurst has peers who have had to deal with these situations, which caused them "considerable expense," and "were quite hairy at times."

Reducing the load on its e-mail servers, meanwhile, "really wasn't what we were getting at," Fairhurst said, as most of his users are relatively light e-mail users and routinely archive their e-mails out to Exchange PST files. He hosts 4,000 users on a single Microsoft Exchange 5.5 server with a single 40 GB information store.

Wigan is archiving its e-mail in preparation for the Freedom of Information Act taking place at the beginning of 2005 when they anticipate that citizens will start requesting information, i.e., e-mails pertaining to a certain topic. If they don't archive the e-mails, the only way they can fulfill FOI requests is by restoring the e-mail server from backup tapes, which is costly and time-consuming.

For e-mail archiving, Wigan Council uses ArchiveStore/EM from Connected Corp., Framingham, Mass. Connected acquired the software last year from the British firm Archive-it. The software runs on a home-built Intel server, with an eight-channel RAID card from Adaptec, and eight 250 GB serial ATA drives running. Fairhurst estimates that he built the 2 TB server for about £3,500, or about $6,300. Fairhurst would not disclose what he paid for the ArchiveStore/EM license, except to say that it was priced on a per-seat basis.

Backup, meanwhile, happens the good old-fashioned way: to standalone tape drives hanging off the back of a standalone backup server. Wigan Council uses Computer Associates' ARCserve to back up to a couple of SDLT 320 and SDLT 600 drives.

ArchiveStore/EM was deployed last April, and has thus far been used mostly by the human resources department. In the future, though, Fairhurst plans to open up the e-mail archive to his user population at large, through the ArchiveStore/EM web browser interface. That way, "we'll be able to tell them, 'Don't worry, delete whatever you want; you can always get it back.'"

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