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Email archiving and compliance solutions: SMB Buying Decisions

A basic definition: Email archiving and compliance products capture, index and store email and attachments so critical and sensitive data can be called up later by criteria such as keyword or phrase,

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time period, classification, sender or recipient.

Benefits

While some industries are more highly regulated than others, virtually all firms, regardless of size, have legal data retention requirements, according to Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research Inc. in Black Diamond, Wash. And while requested data may reside on anything from databases to Post-it notes, email and attachments are increasingly being used to exchange critical and sensitive information such as contracts, Osterman said.

Email archiving and compliance products ensure that companies can recover critical and sensitive information in response to requests by government regulators and litigators. Failure to comply with such requests by deadline can, and has, cost companies millions of dollars. Furthermore, lawsuit defendants typically bear most or all of the costs of legal discovery. By indexing unstructured data, archiving products eliminate the costly and time-consuming job of searching through backup tapes.

Because they capture email contents in near real time, archiving systems also ensure that critical data is not lost when, for example, a disk or server crashes six hours after the regular nightly backup. And unlike regular backup systems, many have a "single instant" feature that stores the primary copy of an email or attachment, but not the 35 copies sent out to various colleagues. That feature alone can reduce storage costs by 15% to 25%, according to Osterman.

Costs

Archiving/compliance products come in three varieties:

  • Appliances typically offer a suite of email archiving applications on dedicated, proprietary hardware. Eagen, Minn.-based Intradyn Inc.'s ComplianceVault06 starts at $10,000.
  • Software suites run on a Unix/Linux or Windows server. Santa Clara, Calif.-based ZipLip Inc.'s Compliance Appliance suite lists at $15,000.
  • Outsourcing services, which capture and archive a client's emails on a hosted server, typically charge $20 to $40 per seat per month, depending on the number of seats.

Industry trends

Appliance and suite vendors are increasingly targeting small and midsized businesses (SMBs) with low-cost, packaged solutions, some of which are essentially self-installing, self-configuring and self-managing, Osterman said.

Osterman said he expects several major players to introduce this year outsourcing services that are particularly attractive to SMBs because they eliminate the cost of purchasing, maintaining and managing an in-house archiving server. SMBs gain access to expertise and round-the-clock support that may not be practical in-house, as well as optional services like spam and virus protection.

Email archiving products are being integrated with hierarchical storage management (HSM) platforms that automatically migrate data to a lower-cost storage medium as it ages, or is accessed less frequently. IBM has integrated its CommonStore and Content Manager email archiving offerings with DR5500 Express, a content-addressable storage platform that provides HSM and virtualized storage across both disk and tape media. DR5500 Express starts at $27,000 for 1.1 terabyte.

Tips and gotchas: Criteria for choosing

  • What types of storage media does it support? Hard disks? WORM? Tape?
  • What email products does it support? Exchange? Lotus Notes? How about instant messaging?
  • Does it archive other types of unstructured data, such as documents or images? Can it be integrated with a third-party document management platform?
  • Does the platform offer preconfigured, tailorable rule sets for legal discovery or regulatory compliance? Such templates can greatly ease the burden of setting up data retention policies, particularly the requirements of complex regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Caveat

Companies considering outsourcing should be aware of a member notice issued last July by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD): "outsourcing an activity or function to a third party does not relieve members of their ultimate responsibility for compliance . . . "

In other words, "If a member doesn't do a thorough job of investigating [the service provider], and doesn't monitor the relationship closely, and it's found out later that their email wasn't properly archived, it's the member who gets fined and in trouble, not the vendor," said William C. Alsover Jr., chairman of the NASD Small Firm Advisory Board.

Analyst viewpoint: Michael Osterman, president, Osterman Research

"The first step to implementing a data retention strategy is to sit down with senior management, legal council, other affected groups and figure out an archiving strategy. What types of data do you need to preserve? What are your current and future regulatory and legal discovery requirements?

"The strategy should take into account not only compliance issues, but the enormous value that users derive from the collective corporate knowledge. Our research has found that 94% of email users periodically refer to old email when composing new messages. Users should be able to access this information in a 'self-service' fashion so that IT does not have to be involved.

"Consider integrating email archiving with a document management system -- because if you're hit with a regulatory audit or legal discovery request, you may have to go through everything.

"Remember that a backup system does not take the place of archiving: it's designed to restore a server, not information."

Product sampling

Note: This is not a comprehensive list of products and service providers.

Elisabeth Horwitt is a freelance writer in Waban, Mass.


This was first published in January 2006

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