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E-mail archiving puzzles IT decision makers

Most enterprises agree they can no longer simply dump old e-mail messages. Opinion varies, however, on just what to do with those mountains of messages.

New research suggests that nearly half of all companies are still unsure about what to do with their old e-mail.

Black Diamond, Wash.-based Osterman Research Inc. recently surveyed companies from a cross section of industries, including manufacturing, financial services, health care and education. The survey asked companies what they feel is the least risky business strategy for storing e-mail.

Michael Osterman, the company's founder and principal analyst, said that about a third of the companies surveyed thought it was a good idea to store all e-mail, just in case those communications are ever needed for a legal case. About a fifth of respondents said the best thing to do is destroy

More people are deciding to keep e-mail as a matter of course instead of destroying it as a matter of course, as we saw a couple of years ago.

David Via, analyst,

Ferris Research

e-mail after a set period of time. Close to half of the companies said they simply aren't sure what to do with those messages.

"A lot of companies still don't know what to do about e-mail archiving, although they're sure about everything else," Osterman said. "They know what to do with spam and viruses and all the rest."

Regulations, storage needs to drive adoption

Despite those findings, e-mail archiving appears to be on the minds of decision makers everywhere. Analysts predict that concerns about data retention regulations and storage management will drive the adoption of e-mail archiving systems in the future.

Analysts said that the main obstacle to adoption has been that that in today's cautious spending climate, e-mail archiving has taken a backseat to what are perceived as greater concerns, specifically spam and viruses. But this may be changing.

"What we have seen happen within the last 12 to 18 months is a significant shift in the way people look at e-mail," said David Via, a senior analyst with Ferris Research in San Francisco. "More people are deciding to keep e-mail as a matter of course instead of destroying it as a matter of course, as we saw a couple of years ago."

Analysts said that data retention rules -- and headlines about companies being fined for not complying

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with such rules -- are the main drivers to the adoption of e-mail archiving systems in highly regulated industries such as financial services and health care.

While legal ramifications are a concern in other less-regulated industries, analysts said that adoption of e-mail archiving systems are driven by more business-related concerns, mainly improved storage management and data mining capabilities.

At the same time, Osterman said, e-mail archiving systems can help free up some of the time end users spend cleaning out their inboxes.

"We found that the typical user spends a median of one hour per week managing the mailbox," Osterman said. "An archiving system doesn't make that go away totally, but it can reduce it."

Asked who spends more time cleaning out their inboxes, Exchange or Domino users, Osterman said it's roughly the same, and much depends on the individual user's preferences and default settings.

Not sold separately

Ferris' Via explained that most organizations looking at e-mail archiving will do so in the context of an overall document management strategy.

"I think you're going to see document management become much more mainstream," he said. "Every organization is going to have some kind of document management, and e-mail is going to be another kind of document that is managed in it."

Nathan Partenheimer, a systems administrator with Butler University in Indianapolis, said that the university is in the process of developing a document management plan that takes all documents into account.

"We have a committee which includes people from our IT department, but also people from around the university, which [is] looking at data archiving," said Partenheimer, who runs the school's Exchange server. "We're taking sort of a broad approach."

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