E-gads! Glut of e-mail could mean storage space race

Keeping track of your company's e-mail is an important business. Just ask the people at WorldCom and Enron. If you can't shred it, you have to store it, and with the number of corporate e-mails expected to hit 60 billion within three years, finding storage space could be your next headache.

When regulators had a hard time chronicling wrongdoings at Enron and WorldCom after key documents were destroyed, the issue likely struck a chord with Windows administrators, who realized that they probably needed a better strategy for archiving information, especially corporate e-mail.

Companies in some industries, such as finance (brokerages) and health care, are required by law to keep their records straight, thanks to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Both have rules that require strict recordkeeping in their respective industries and, in the case of the SEC, demand timely response to requests for data.

Like everyone, Exchange administrators tread on virgin soil when it comes to creating policies that determines how long and where an e-mail should be kept. But since e-mail is now eating up more and more expensive primary storage space, the subject is becoming more urgent.

Three quick tips for setting up an archive
Roy Sanford, vice president of markets and content-addressed storage at EMC Corp., offers these tips to IT administrators who are helping design a new archival strategy:

  • Look for specific features that meet regulatory and business requirements, and pick something that is all-encompassing rather than just a point e-mail archiving tool.

  • Make sure the system can scale. The average 3,000-person company generates about 3 terabytes of e-mail per year. If you need to keep e-mail from three to seven years, you can quickly move beyond your overall capacity.
    One emerging feature that may be a money saver is called single instance store. In this case, every time an e-mail is sent with an attachment, the attachment is only stored once and not with every e-mail.

  • Look for software than can view all corporate assets in a location where they can be viewed centrally.
  • How important an issue is storage? Within three years, it will be more than doubly urgent.

    The number of corporate e-mail messages will grow from 24.6 billion worldwide in 2002 to roughly 59.5 billion in 2006, according to a study published last month by the Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif., market research firm that tracks messaging usage.

    The firm also estimates that the number of corporate messages sent and received per user per day will grow from 61 in 2002 to about 80 in 2006.

    At Tyco Healthcare in Mansfield, Mass., IT executives are debating just how to shape their own e-mail policy. Today, the company keeps e-mail active for about 60 to 90 days. "It's an ambiguous area," said Roy Wilsker, director of technology planning at Tyco Healthcare. "We will err on the side of angels."

    Wilsker said that one debate centers on finding ways to dump junk mail so it doesn't need to be stored. Right now, the company stores some e-mail on tape because it can always be restored. But, he said, "it's a miserable process."

    Today's tools for e-mail archiving do a good job tracking files when they are stored locally. But once you're offline, it's not so easy to use a keyword to dig out an e-mail, said Steve Kenniston, a technology analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, a Milford, Mass., consulting firm.

    And customers are changing their minds on the length of time that they want to keep e-mail, Kenniston said. Some companies back up nightly and keep it for a few months or even a whole year. But there is an increasing number of companies, government agencies and other organizations that are interested in keeping e-mail anywhere from five to seven years, he said.

    A number of vendors already anticipate the growing demand for better e-mail archival systems. Leading the way is a handful of vendors that specialize in storing reference information -- and e-mail in particular. They are KVS Inc., which sells to Exchange customers, Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC), Persist Technologies Inc. and OTC Software, which was acquired last spring by Legato Systems Inc.

    Vendors are also starting to sell integrated packages to make the job of archiving e-mail easier for customers. Last month, EMC Corp., Iron Mountain Inc. and KVS joined forces to sell a one-stop service combining e-mail mailbox management and compliance (from KVS), long-term archiving (from Iron Mountain), and long-term online storage media (from EMC's Centera content-addressed storage product group).

    Centera uses a storage unit that is designed for fixed content. It makes what is essentially a digital fingerprint of an e-mail, which can be brought back online at a user's request.

    In the future, there will be a push to address not just the information storage and retrieval problems that high e-mail volume can cause, but also a corporation's overall content chaos. Customers will want to create a general archival and retrieval method that can look across applications and the many data repositories that are currently inaccessible to each other, analysts said.

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