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E-mail, attachments heading for a divorce

By some estimates, e-mail attachments suck up about 80% of enterprise storage and server resources. With the proliferation of bandwidth-hogging attachments such as spreadsheets and music files, the problem can only get worse. One solution to the problem is to remove attachments from a company's messaging infrastructure and deliver them through other means.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Accellion Inc. sees attachment caching as the most efficient way to lessen the burden on mail servers. Yorgen Edholm, who recently joined Accellion as its chief executive and president, talked to about the benefits of caching.

Besides saving storage resources, are there other reasons to separate e-mail attachments from regular message traffic?
People are using this technology to consolidate e-mail servers. These are companies that are not the very biggest, but have lots of different offices. [In] some of the offices, they don't have very strong IT personnel. The result is that they want to consolidate their e-mail servers to a few central locations where they can be backed up correctly, where they can migrate from one version of Exchange to another, and so forth.


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E-mail attachments have become a prime vehicle for hackers to enter an enterprise network. How can that be thwarted?
One of the features in the new release is that we have a hookup with the standard security vendors. In addition to working with antivirus vendors, we make it very hard to tinker with any e-mail attachments that are under our control. Rather than using open pipes to send e-mails, we use secure tunnels. On top of that, we have optional encryption, and that makes it hard for anybody to do a double breakage. How does this reduce demands on storage resources?
It saves storage in a couple of ways. If there's nothing else, our attachments are being compressed, which means they take up less space. More than that, we have optimized ways of caching our attachments. If you are sending [an attachment] out to 500 people and you have 20 e-mail servers, there's something like 20 to 500 copies being made by the e-mail system. In Accellion's case, we don't make a copy for every person, and we pool these many different copies from maybe 20 at the beginning down to one after three months, because we know that the usage is going down. What are some of the other attachment-related burdens on IT?
One of the problems with a standard e-mail messaging system is that when you run out of bandwidth, it typically happens in a spike. It's not that you run out of bandwidth all the time, but at one point, somebody sends a big attachment to lots of people and the e-mail server tries to send it to everybody at the same time. How does your company's Attachment product work?
What we are delivering is a client agent that is a plug-in to either the Microsoft Outlook client or the IBM Lotus Notes client, and basically listens for attachments. In addition to that, we have appliances and servers on the network that communicate with those agents. So, whenever somebody creates an e-mail with an attachment, our agent sends it back. And if the attachment is of the right size and right kind, it will take it over and basically send the attachment to our appliances to be distributed separately from the e-mail system. And what's left is the original e-mail with a link to the attachment. Who determines what that 'certain size' is?
That's totally configurable by IT. What's the impact of this on enterprise storage resources?

How e-mail attachment
 caching works

      1. E-mail with file attachment is sent via an attachment-caching agent.
2. File is removed from e-mail flow and uploaded to closest e-mail caching appliance.
3. Caching agent inserts link into e-mail and distributes to recipients.
4. File is transferred between e-mail caching appliances, outside the messaging infrastructure.
5. Recipients click link to download file from closest e-mail caching appliance.


Source: Accellion Inc.  

One of the problems that IT sees a lot of is that they have limited windows of when they can do backup, when they can do defragmentations, when they can do a restore. Those windows haven't changed, even though storage [demands] have gotten much, much bigger. If you can lift out between 80% and 90% of what's in the e-mail files, obviously you can shrink [backup and restore] from a couple of hours down to a couple of minutes. In the worst case, a restore that can take three days can happen in a couple of hours.
Yorgen Edholm, Accellion CEO
Yorgen Edholm, Accellion CEO
What are the main concerns that enterprises have in managing e-mail systems?
There are lots. We see spam. We see security. In Accellion's case, we are addressing a very fundamental problem with storage. E-mail storage tends to grow 20% to 30% per year for everyone -- that is even with very strong management. Why are e-mail attachments a storage problem?
It seems that the percentage of [data] that is stored in attachments just keeps going up as more and more people get comfortable using attachments, and also as the attachments get bigger. It used to be that maybe you attached an Excel spreadsheet a couple of years back. Now, people attach bigger spreadsheets. They attach pictures. They sometimes even attach movies.

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