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Evidence Is in the Email: Take Control With an Email Archiving System

What can email archiving technology do for you? Get you more storage space, improve system performance -- and make your auditors happy.

Retaining email for too little or too long is fraught with risk. An archiving system that automates the process will keep your company from taking a fall.

Editor's Note
To view our complete multimedia package, visit our Email Archiving Supercast.

To tackle the growing volume of email, CTO Fred Mau relied on an ad hoc policy that stipulated users shouldn't keep email messages for more than 60 days. But that didn't work; many of the 600 employees at architecture and engineering firm Burgess & Niple Inc. (B&N) resorted to using personal folders in Microsoft Exchange to routinely archive their own email, which often contained project memos, design notes and even computer-aided design files. "The keep-it (versus the pitch-it) types would hang on to their personal folders and add layer after layer to them very much like a snowball," Mau says.

Next, the company imposed mailbox limits. That didn't work too well either; over time, Mau and his staff eased limits for individuals on an exception basis until mailboxes increased by three to four times their initial size.

The Federal Rules and E-Discovery
On Dec. 1, 2006, amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure went into effect, requiring companies involved in federal litigation to produce "electronically stored information" as part of the pretrial discovery process. Legal experts say the rules don't cover new ground in terms of the discovery of email -- what was previously considered discoverable is still considered discoverable. But the rules establish guidelines for how organizations should prepare for and conduct e-discovery processes; they "embody best practices that have been emerging in e-discovery," says Tom Allman, senior counsel at the law firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw in Chicago who helped craft the rules.

One concept that is new is the requirement that both parties "meet and confer" early in the litigation process. "It's a new paradigm that requires early discussions about how and where companies are preserving information," says Allman. The discussions cover all digital information subject to e-discovery, not just email. (Indeed, experts say that e-discovery for files such as cell phone images and instant messages is much more vexing.) Yet having a comprehensive email archiving system in place that classifies messages and that indexes and makes these messages easily accessible will certainly simplify things for litigants before the trial begins.

The rules also reinforce the importance of policy, experts say. If electronic information is deleted in the course of routine operations -- such as when a company purges email archives on a regular basis -- the company may avoid sanctions. That's not the case with information deleted after a company has been notified of legal action. Once a company becomes party to litigation, IT had better put a "litigation hold" on all archived information. Otherwise, a judge is likely to conclude that any information deleted after the fact is potentially harmful and will instruct the jury to draw the same conclusions.


Controlling the amount of storage needed for email didn't just present cost and maintenance issues, however. "If we were ever subpoenaed, I was afraid I couldn't find email easily," says Mau. So he made the case to management to invest in email archiving technology so messages could be indexed, searched and accessed easily. Recently, B&N deployed an archiving system from Zantaz Inc., and Mau is now in the process of centralizing archiving for all 16 of the company's offices.

Email retention and access today is as much a part of risk management as it is of storage and performance. Save too little, and you could run afoul of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or, in the case of financial services firms, other rules set by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Securities Dealers. Save too much, and you have evidence that is discoverable should your company become engaged in litigation. That means devoting staff time to produce the email messages and paying lawyers to catalog and read them all.

Further, IT can no longer simply back up mail servers and maintain the data on tape. With the new amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that went into effect Dec. 1, 2006, companies are required to keep better track of all electronic information, including email (see "The Federal Rules and E-Discovery," at right). Many analysts now see archiving as key to mitigating the risks involved in litigation as well as compliance.

"The real costs of not archiving are hidden," says Matt Cain, lead email analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. "Once you get lawyers to review huge swaths of email that was recovered from tape, things will get very expensive."

Case in point: In a famous gender discrimination case in 2003 that involved investment bank UBS Warburg, the cost of restoring, searching and reviewing more than 8,000 email messages from one employee on only five months' worth of backup tapes was $19,000.


Taking Control With Archiving
Though some say e-discovery is the chief driver of archiving system adoption, there are many reasons to use the technology, such as freeing up storage space, improving system performance and providing for disaster recovery.

At the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, CIO George Yacoub has to contend with the ever-growing volume of email in a Microsoft Exchange environment. "We have a lot of researchers who do most of their correspondence via email," Yacoub says. "The pressing issue for us is that users are running out of disk space." He recently deployed an archiving system from EMC Corp. to help manage storage and prevent the hospital's 1,700 end users from pushing inbox capacity -- currently 250MB -- to the limit.

Large data stores further increase the time to perform maintenance, backup and recovery. Stripping email attachments out of messages and storing them in an archive can reduce data store size by as much as 80%, says Paul D'Arcy, vice president of worldwide marketing at email management vendor MessageOne Inc. That can further improve the user experience by decreasing the amount of time it takes to open an attachment.

For Cardinal Logistics Management Corp., a privately held trucking company based in Concord, N.C., a new archiving server from CommVault allows the company's 1,000 employees to access archived messages relatively quickly, which is the primary goal. The server integrates with the company's backup system and transfers email to an off-site disaster recovery system after six months; after a year, messages are moved to tape. Moving email messages out of the production environment means users aren't bogged down searching for messages on a 300-gigabyte database anymore; now it takes no more than a minute to retrieve a message, says network engineer Marty Hurd.

Email archiving systems can further serve as a disaster recovery system, resulting in cost savings. "Using an archiving system for disaster recovery eliminates the need for a replicated environment, which is expensive and hard to manage," says D'Arcy. "You don't have to store an email in three places -- the primary environment, archive and disaster recovery system -- so you can cut your costs by one-third."


No Heavy Lifting

E-discovery is the No. 1 driver for companies' adoption of email archiving systems, according to Paul D'Arcy, vice president of worldwide marketing for MessageOne Inc., a provider of business continuity and email management systems based in Austin, Texas. (For others, see "Taking Control With Archiving," at right.) According to research firm IDC, the global market for email archiving applications topped $470 million in 2006 and will exceed $1 billion by 2010. In a 2006 survey of 450 IT and storage professionals sponsored by online archiving provider PowerFile Inc., 80% of respondents are considering some kind of archiving system as part of their overall storage plan.

"It's very expensive and time-consuming for people to find the relevant emails in their environment," says D'Arcy. A typical midmarket organization likely has email stored on tape, in local archives and in personal folders. During litigation, the ability to know what messages exist and where to locate them is critical because that information has to be made available to opposing counsel early in the discovery process.

Email archiving systems work in part by automating when messages and attachments are moved from production email servers to storage media, a function called "retention management." That puts an end to the need for employees to be "junior records managers" charged with choosing which of their email messages will get sent to the archives, says Andy Cohen, associate general counsel at storage vendor EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, Mass. "Even midmarket companies have millions of emails, and employees can't make retention decisions in a consistent manner," he says.

Gregg Davis, senior VP and CIO of the $1.2-billion construction company Webcor Builders Inc., agrees. In 2001, Webcor deployed an archiving system from Veritas Software (now Symantec Corp.) that archives email based on the date of the message. Mail automatically moves from public folders to the archives in 30 days and then moves from personal inboxes to the archives in 90 days. After two years, email moves from the archives to optical disk and tape. "We wanted a system that didn't require end users to do anything," he says. "If you ask them to move or flag messages, it's not going to work."

Email archiving systems also offer indexing technology. An administrator can set up rules for incoming messages that archiving software then classifies as needing to be archived or not so that your email archive doesn't become unmanageable. "The whole point of archiving should be to keep messages so that they are easily accessible," says Julie Gable, president of Gable Consulting LLC, a Wyndmoor, Pa., firm that specializes in electronic records and compliance.

And most experts recommend choosing policy-based software to facilitate the retention, storage and deletion of large volumes of email; IT can quickly set parameters based on users, content or department. Consistent use of such methods protects the organization in the event of a lawsuit, while searching, indexing and auditing functions enable it to locate information if necessary.

Gartner's 2006 Magic Quadrant on active email archiving contains 14 vendors, including such stalwarts as CA, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM (with its FileNet acquisition) and Symantec. Varying widely, pricing is based largely on the capabilities required as well as an organization's existing IT infrastructure and staff. For the hosted model, costs vary based on the number of seats, the volume of archived messages and the level of services.


Active email archiving software (n.): products that capture and archive all enterprise email messages; provide archive access via Web and email clients; and integrate with records management tools, among other capabilities

Source: Gartner Inc.

Considerations in Product Selection

If you're selecting a product, consider scalability. Will the product keep pace with the amount of email your organization produces? Can it adapt to your organization's evolving policies? You should be able to easily modify the who, what and how of email archiving. And of course, your organization may have specific technical requirements that supersede policy considerations. At Webcor Builders, Davis needed an archiving system that could search attachments as well as message content so nothing would fall through the cracks.

As Gable and others point out, however, the groundswell of interest in archiving technology belies the cultural maneuvers involved. "One of the biggest difficulties for CIOs is thinking of email archiving as a silver bullet," Gable says. "They buy a system and scratch another item off their to-do list without really thinking through why they are doing it. People think you can just buy a system and save everything for the same period of time." Such an approach sidesteps the biggest challenge: acclimating users with varying needs.

"The technology itself is fairly simple," says Gartner's Cain. "There are third-party add-ons to run in-house, or you can essentially outsource everything with a hosting service." Much more difficult are "the political and emotional issues dictating what gets saved and for how long."

So it behooves organizations to develop a retention policy first and then find the technology to enforce it. Unfortunately, that's seldom the way it works. "Most go about archiving backwards," Cain says. "They aggressively find the technology and then come up with a policy."

That's the progression that Mau followed, albeit grudgingly. "Before we got an archiving system, I went to management and told them I could go ahead and delete our users' personal folders, but then my tires would be slashed in the parking lot," he says. Without first centralizing archiving and thereby discontinuing the use of personal folders for that purpose, Mau suspected he couldn't effectively enforce a policy.

Once B&N wrests control of archiving from end users, a project that the company should complete this year, Mau will sit down with management and hammer out a policy. "We really have to think [about] how long users should keep email," says Mau. "We have some here who are strong legal proponents of deletion and others who are proud that they have every email they've ever sent."

Like Mau, CIO George Yacoub acquired archiving technology without an archiving policy, which he admits has made his job more challenging. He recently installed an EMC archiving system to manage storage at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, where many users' inboxes were reaching their limits. With the system, users are notified when their inboxes are approaching their limits, and they have the option of deleting messages or moving them to their local hard drives or offline media such as CDs.

Even without a policy, Yacoub says the archiving system is an important component of a longer-term storage management strategy. Eventually, he would like to devise a policy that restricts the use of email as a document management tool. He is currently testing a retention schedule that archives messages after 30 days, and ideally he would like to make a document management and imaging system available. "Instead of saving everything as an attachment, we need to educate users to use document imaging or archiving as management tools," he says.


A Policy Primer

While there are no standard guidelines for email retention outside regulated industries, there are some basic considerations. Gable recommends that organizations make retention decisions based primarily on content rather than time frame or employee function.

James Geis, director of integrated solutions development for Forsythe Technology Inc., an IT consulting firm based in Chicago, recommends that a retention policy examine why information is created in the first place, how the information is relevant, and whether the information is a legal or a business record. Then, based on how frequently the information needs to be accessed and by whom, policy authors -- a cross-sectional group representing legal, compliance, end users and IT -- should determine how long the information should be retained.

You may want to establish different time frames for different kinds of information. Business records may need to be kept for five years, but a presentation for the quarterly sales meeting -- or any item needed for reference only in the short term -- can be kept for two years. Finally, there needs to be a deletion strategy. Should every single copy of an email be purged after a certain amount of time, or do you want to keep a copy of everything on tape for the foreseeable future?

Ultimately, practice makes perfect. A retention policy is only as airtight as the processes that ensure it's adhered to.

A three-year retention policy won't keep 5-year-old messages stored on a user's hard drive free from the prying eyes of opposing counsel. That's where archiving systems come in. "The reason people buy email archiving," says D'Arcy, "is to minimize risks associated with legal, downtime and compliance."

Megan Santosus, a former senior editor at CIO Decisions, is now a features editor for Write to her at

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