Overlooking features trips up email archiving projects

IT managers and archiving experts share a few tips on what elements to look for in an email archiving system.

Scalability and granular search capabilities are two must haves when considering an email or file archiving system, according to IT managers and other experts.

Considering the sheer volume of email and personal files that may need to be found and saved to stave off potential lawsuits or meet regulatory compliance, these two archiving features may seem obvious to some, but they are the two areas that most often come back to bite IT once the system is put to the test.

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On the scalability side, many organizations are underestimating how many email they have to save and for how long, for example.

"Figure out the most you will ever have to store, say, for the next three to five years and then multiply that times three," said Michael Osterman, president and founder of messaging and email archiving firm Osterman Research Inc. in Black Diamond, Wash. "People forget to factor in email growth and email volume per user, which is growing by an average of 20% a year."

The email archiving system should also have the ability to search and destroy local PST [personal store] files, said Ron Isbell, information security manager at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

"You need something that will search for PST files and import or destroy them for you," Isbell said. "We have 87,000 users and I'll tell you that it would take a while if we had to find all those files ourselves."

There is a glitch in all email archiving systems, however, when it comes to differentiating between information in email systems such as Exchange or, say, a Hotmail account.

"We have two different email systems, one for hospital users and one for our academic users and they have personal email accounts with Yahoo and Hotmail that have PST files," Isbell said. "The system can't tell which email is coming from where and that is a big stumbling point. I don't want it to collect PST files from personal accounts and have them put in the archive."

When Isbell began his search for an email archiving system a year ago, he was also concerned by how the systems appeared to be slapped together. During product demonstrations, the console's still had other company's names and product names on it, for example.

"It became obvious that the vendors rushed to market because (email archiving) was propped up by legal concerns," Isbell said. "I had major vendors coming in with product tags from the company they acquired still on the product. You knew they put the product and interoperability together pretty quickly, which was alarming."

Another area that should raise red flags is lack of compatibility with older and yet to be released versions of email servers.

"You have to ask the vendor if they support your older Exchange system, and many people forget to ask that, and whether they are on the same schedule to support future versions of Exchange," said Greg Forest, vice president with technology consulting firm Contoural Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. Forest was speaking at a recent TechTarget email archiving event in Chicago.

He presented a long list of features to keep in mind when looking at archiving products. Topping off that list are content and metadata filtering and the ability to index all content including attachments. "The majority of what lives on Exchange is in attachments, not just email, so one of the single biggest bangs you should get out of your system is the ability to [store] single instance attachments," Forest said.

The human resources department, for example, often sends out benefits attachments to all employees, which should be archived as a single attachment that can be retrieved by all employees.

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