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Napa Valley winery converts to e-mail archive

Vendors are hyping e-mail, but as with Foster's Wines, it often takes a big restoration failure before an archive is considered -- and it might not get implemented right away.

For Foster's Wine Estates America in Napa, Calif., the pain in restoring e-mail data from tape began over two years ago when an administrative assistant for an executive somehow managed to delete every message in the executive's 2 GB mailbox.

"Exchange has an undelete option," said Brad Gates, director of IT infrastructure for Foster's, "But it doesn't cache 2 GB.

By the time IT was on the case, it took two staffers three days -- over what was supposed to be a long weekend -- to restore the mailbox from LTO tape in its StorageTek L40 library, as well as tapes that had already been shipped off site and needed to be brought back for the recovery.

"The problem is that we interleave our tape backups from a number of different applications," Gates said. "So the backup for that particular Exchange mailbox was in a number of different places."

Worse, the data loss happened on a Friday, and at the time Foster's was only running one full backup a week -- meaning the IT employees had to sift through a week's worth of incremental backups to restore the last four days' worth of e-mail.

The baseline backup happened relatively quickly, Gates said, but counting the search process, each incremental backup took longer and longer to put in place. "The last one," he remembered, "took almost 16 hours."

As painful as that experience was, Gates said, it still wasn't until the last few weeks that Mimosa Systems Inc.'s Nearpoint e-mail archive has come fully into production in its Exchange environment.

Gates explained that it was a long journey between experiencing the pain and fixing the problem -- a process that evolved through evaluations of new tape products, a hotly debated decision to abandon tape backups for Exchange altogether, a look at service providers for e-mail archiving and finally to an on-site e-mail archiving product.

Today, Foster's runs the NearPoint attached via its EMC Corp. Clariion CX500 SAN to a Dell Inc. 1850 server running Exchange 2003 at its main data center. The Mimosa box doubles as a disaster recovery archive for e-mail and is housed in a separate building. Gates said Foster's is still backing up other applications to tape and still runs tape backups of Exchange as an extra precaution.

A gap between best practices and reality

Aside from the arduous process it had taken to decide first on a type of product to use for changing e-mail backup, to then picking a specific product to deploy, Gates said, the critical nature of e-mail has been a recent phenomenon in his experience. And true e-mail recovery nightmares, as in the case of Morgan Stanley, (see Morgan Stanley feels e-mail archiving pain, Feb. 15) have only been on the rise even more recently with the addition of new compliance standards.

"Morgan Stanley drove our legal guys to get on us about our e-mail backups," Gates said. "It added an extra push for us to pick a product."

But, he said, others that hadn't started their exploration of the technology as early as he had might just be getting around to it -- or may still think it can't happen to them. "It's a pain to implement," he said. "And it's not considered much of a priority until other things start driving it."

He said that for the majority of users, evaluating e-mail archiving may "just be picking up speed."

If that's the case, it may be a while before the majority of users' reactions to a big push for e-mail archiving for compliance and litigation discovery by vendors and regulators in recent months will meet with much more than a lukewarm response (see Hedge funds snub e-mail archiving rule, Jan. 31).

According to TM Ravi, co-founder and CEO of Mimosa, the financial sector took the lead in implementing e-mail archives, but other verticals are beginning to follow.

"Our experience has been that users are looking actively at e-mail archiving in almost every market segment," he said, conceding that adoption had been slow and had only recently begun to pick up.

But he said his company remained optimistic that archiving would catch on. "E-mail systems are notoriously difficult to manage, and they're not really designed for the scale on which they're being used now," he said. "Even if they're not under threat of litigation or regulation, too much data in the e-mail environment is something any company of reasonable size is facing."

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