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E-mail archiving: Planning your strategy

Bits & Bytes: Jamie Gruener offers several tactics to consider when planning a strategy for managing and archiving e-mail.

It is about time we stopped ignoring the pink elephant in the middle of the room. You know what I mean -- e-mail -- one of the fastest application consumers of storage today. It also happens to be a growing part of the compliance problem that your CFO and CTO are thinking about -- HIPAA, SEC, Sarbanes-Oxley, FDA or any of roughly two-dozen other regulations mandating the retention of documents. How do you control the growth of e-mail while at the same time making sure you hang onto the right documents to meet your regulatory obligations? Problem is, there's not a simple three-step program to better manage e-mail storage, but there are a few things to consider when putting together a plan to better handle e-mail storage.

At last week's Storage Management conference in Chicago, I listed some tactics to consider as part of your plan to tame the e-mail storage monster. Here I'll highlight what you need to consider saving -- and hopefully allow you to limit the amount of data you need to hang onto for compliance reasons. I'll provide a quick overview and then some technical tips.

The first step is setting up the process to e-mail control:
1. Determine areas of exposure (seek legal assistance and outside help here, even industry specific advice)
2. Coordinate the plan with storage consolidation
3. Establish e-mail quotas that encourage user-initiated archiving (more of this in a moment)
4. Coordinate e-mail archiving policies with quotas
5. Identify an e-mail policy for what's business-related
6. Select the best technology/tools to support the approach

At a technical level, once you have a sense of the kind of information you need to preserve, you must consider the avenues you want to use to get there. E-mail archiving is a process -- not a piece of software, service or another storage system sitting on your data center floor. But, together, they can solve the problem. That means considering the path, or data lifecycle, needed to make sure the e-mails and attachments that need to be saved are saved. Selecting the archiving tool is one step, but where does the data go once it leaves the e-mail server into storage is equally important.

Some e-mail archiving tools available today assist with this migration process, either by integrating with e-mail filtering software to collect e-mail with key words or a specific user's e-mail, or by allowing users to select e-mails and attached documents for archiving. Giving users the ability to do their own archiving is a double-edged sword, but with cases where only users truly know what needs to be archived, it is one of the stronger choices.

The tools you select also depend on your preferences as well as which e-mail server platform you have standardized on. E-mail archiving software generally sits on a separate server with a repository of archived information, monitoring e-mail server logs. The tool should provide reports of what's going into the archive, and you will want to extensively test the system before putting it in production. And, the better archiving products are starting to provide assistance on the compliance process by giving you an audit trail you can use to track where documents are, just in case you are audited, fined or even worse, sued.

I'd also advocate that e-mail archiving is only one piece of solving this complicated problem. The first generation of fixed-content storage systems from Network Appliance, EMC and others can already provide a platform to send archived data by working closely with e-mail archiving software and providing better access than traditional tape libraries.

Last point to be made: evaluate e-mail archiving software on how well it can integrate with other storage management tools. You want to be able to share intelligence about your data retention strategies with hierarchical storage management as well as storage resource management tools.

About the author: Jamie Gruener is the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies.

For more information

Expert advice: Moving e-mail storage from DAS to NAS

Webcast: Taming your e-mail data hogs

Expert advice: A few ways to encourage end users to manage their data

Dig Deeper on Data storage compliance and regulations

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