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E-mail archiving on the rise

If you need to archive e-mail and don't have a policy or the technology, here is some advice on how you can begin to lay the groundwork.

After receiving multiple requests for e-mail records, officials in the city of Fort Myers, Fla., implemented e-mail archiving technology rather than have their IT department do the job in about 250 hours, said Sandra Weightman, Networks Systems analyst.

E-mail archiving -- the interactive, long-term storage of e-mail with easy search and retrieval capabilities -- is now a priority for IT organizations that are pressured by internal compliance requirements and industry regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Even non-regulated industries are looking at e-mail archiving to protect themselves against lawsuits and to reduce the strain on messaging servers.

The city of Fort Myer's predicament all came to a head because of the Florida Sunshine Law, which gives citizens the legal right to request copies of all public records, including e-mails. While the law has been in effect for 25 years, residents have only recently started to request the e-mails.

With 1,000 Exchange mailboxes, the city of Fort Myers typically receives hundreds of e-mails daily. As a solution to manual archiving, the IT department decided to implement KVS Enterprise Vault software, which manages unstructured content in the Exchange environment.

"Each request for e-mail [records] requires a lot of manual searching," Weightman explains. "Even if you perform backups every night on Exchange servers and on your data, if a user permanently deletes e-mail from his inbox, you can't reproduce it. But with an e-mail archiving system, a copy is retained."

Who does archiving, who doesn't
A growing number of organizations view archiving seriously, especially for storage management, but many companies still don't have a policy in place, said Michael Osterman, president, Osterman Research Inc. in Black Diamond, Wash.

In a recent e-mail archiving study, Osterman Research found that 43% of organizations surveyed have an e-mail retention policy, 8% have an instant messaging policy and 48% of respondents lack policies or systems to prevent users from deleting content.

Osterman also estimates that about 12% of organizations currently use what can truly be considered an "archiving" system. "By archiving, we mean software (or systems) that automatically extracts data from the message store, indexes this content and makes it available either for offline and/or online access," he explains. "While many organizations may believe that a backup constitutes an archive, this is not the case."

Storage management, regulatory compliance and internal compliance are the key motivating factors for many companies that deploy an e-mail archiving solution. According to a recent survey by The Radicati Group Inc., 55% of companies said that storage management was their number one reason for deploying e-mail archiving. The research and consulting firm in Palo Alto, Calif., estimates that the average corporate e-mail user processes 10MB of data daily.

Step 1: Define the basics
If you want to archive your e-mail, the first thing you need to do is establish a policy. In fact, you shouldn't rush to implement technology, advises Richard Scannell, senior vice president of North America consulting at GlassHouse Technologies Inc., Framingham, Mass., which provides storage and backup consulting and services.

"First, we encourage customers to understand what they are trying to accomplish," Scannell said. "Then, look at the discrete technologies. Many companies still have multiple e-mail systems, which make it more difficult when you have to archive from different systems. Third, you need to be extremely careful how you manage archives."

Many companies also need to change their mindset about how they view e-mail, advises Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute in Columbus, Ohio. "You must be aware that e-mail today is the electronic equivalent of DNA," Flynn said. "It [e-mail] creates a written business record. Every organization must determine and define what exactly is a business record."

Flynn recommends a "3E" approach to an e-mail archiving policy that also covers instant messaging and non-public data. First, establish a written e-mail policy and define retention and deletion guidelines, including industry and government regulations and internal organization rules. Second, educate your employees about this policy. Third, enforce policy and retention guidelines, including discipline procedures.

Establish and adhere to a basic policy even while legal is evaluating requirements, suggests Mary Kay Roberto, senior vice president and general manager of North America at KVS, a developer of e-mail and content archiving software in Arlington, Texas.

Some good news: IT should not assume sole responsibility for an e-mail archiving policy and should enlist the cooperative effort of the HR, legal and accounting departments. "The IT people are the last to set policies and are just the custodians," Scannell said. "The policy-makers should be corporate counsel and reviewed by the line of business owners."

However, IT is expected to implement e-mail archiving policies. Therefore, you will need to compensate for disparate e-mail systems and ensure that e-mail archiving and backup policies are compatible.

"Don't wait for e-mail disaster to strike," Flynn warns. "You want to be proactive. If you do get hit with a lawsuit, if you can demonstrate that your organization has a written policy, rules and ongoing training with employees and discipline employees who violate policy, then the courts will look at you favorably."

Archiving software sampler

The following companies are among the Microsoft Exchange partners as well as market leaders.

AXS-One Inc.
C2C Systems
IXOS Software
KVS Inc.
Legato Systems

Paula Jacobs has written about technology for more than 15 years. Her articles have appeared in publications that include CIO, InfoWorld and Network World.

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