As tough as their jobs are today, server administrators suffocating under the weight of super-sized e-mail attachments and a never-ending stream of spam can expect more daunting messaging volumes in the coming years.
In fact, Palo Alto, Calif.-based messaging researcher Radicati Group estimates that the average corporate mailbox currently processes 9.6 MB of e-mail data per day but that it will require 42 MB per day by 2005.
Faced with the inefficient and unauthorized use of company e-mail accounts, ever-larger attachments and new federal accounting regulations, many will spend the next three to five years consolidating servers, balancing loads, auditing user accounts and installing rapidly-accessible messaging archives.
It's enough to have an admin reaching for the aspirin bottle. But don't throw in the towel, experts say; it's possible to stem the rising messaging tide.
A good place to start is with sweeping e-mail usage policies, strictly enforced, that can dramatically cut messaging volumes by outlining how e-mail should be used in the workplace.
Admins at Linde Gas, a division of Linde Group, in Wiesbaden, Germany, oversee 11,000 Lotus Notes and SMTP e-mail users in 45 countries, and they say the users themselves cause the most grief. Large attachments and personal e-mails sent from company accounts clog networks and affect server budgets. "There's a right way and a wrong way to send e-mail," said Auguste Goldman, Notes center manager at Linde. "And users often choose the wrong way."
The wrong way is to send 1,000 users each a 2 MB file, instead of e-mailing a link to a single file on the corporate server. There are, of course, many other ways to gum up the enterprise's messaging works. But identifying offending account holders is virtually impossible without first auditing network activity. "Our Notes users send 100,000 to 200,000 messages each day," said Goldman. "And e-mails don't travel in a hub-and-spoke topography, but point-to-point, with thousands of connection possibilities. So it's impossible to see what's going on in an environment without special tools."
Linde now uses applications from Wellesley, Mass.-based DYS Analytics Inc., which provides e-mail auditing and support services to large organizations, to spot the server hogs among its e-mail users. Some Linde users, Goldman discovered, were e-mailing themselves large attachments as a way to label and store their important files. Others were sharing high-resolution vacation pictures with their co-workers. Many more were simply not compressing their files before clicking the send button. Armed with data from their audits, Linde's admins show abusers the impact of their behavior on the network and try to persuade them to change their behavior.
Complying with the feds
Fat files from abusive e-mailers are bad enough. But a bigger burden on messaging budgets may be government regulations, some enacted after the Enron scandal, that require publicly traded corporations to keep copies of all of their e-mail and instant messages for many years.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulations will "require some kind of wholesale storage of a company's messages," said David Via, an analyst at Ferris Research in San Francisco. Companies have already stopped their practice of regularly dumping their e-mail, said Via. Eighteen months ago, most enterprises deleted e-mail from their servers after 90 or 180 days, but, he said, "now only a small minority do that."
To support the additional storage requirements without sacrificing system performance, Linde IT workers regularly back up e-mails from their 220 Domino servers to an array of tapes, CDs and hard disks. But analysts are strongly encouraging admins to invest in specialized e-mail archiving systems, from which users can access messages within their e-mail applications as easily and transparently as they do from the network server or their own PCs.
E-mail archiving applications systems, such as those from Legato Systems Inc. (recently acquired by EMC Corp.) and KVS Inc. (which makes products for use with Microsoft Exchange), index messages for quick retrieval -- a must for making timely responses to requests from government regulators. "The newer e-mail archiving products allow users and administrator searches and retrievals based on particular fields," said Sara Radicati, CEO of the Radicati Group. "That beats retrieving data from traditional backups -- often a two-week process that always seems to require about five signatures."
Some e-mail archiving applications also include compliance engines, tailored for specific industries. An archiving app, for example, might be tailored to help a health care provider comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Perhaps most important, archiving systems make e-mail tamper-proof, by maintaining original copies of messages and recording the names and dates associated with any modifications to the messages. "Not only are you alleviating the storage problem by moving data off of production servers," said Michael Osterman, president of Black Diamond, Wash.-based Osterman Research, "you're establishing a paper trail that will support you in the case of any litigation."
Servers and spam
At Linde, which has not yet invested in an e-mail archiving system, Goldman said that server consolidation (such as that enabled by Notes and Domino 6), high bandwidth and server performance are essential to staying ahead of the surging messaging tide. "We upgrade our servers every two to three years," said Goldman, "with high-end machines with two to four processors and lots of RAM."
By consolidating their servers, Linde and other companies can use fewer, more powerful machines to guard the network against viruses and spam, Radicati said. Server consolidation also increases processing throughput and efficiency, making it easier for admins to manage mail servers on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to archiving technology and faster servers, admins will also want to invest in multiple spam-blocking products. (Many analysts agree that at least one quarter of e-mail messages received by corporate accounts are spam.) A magic bullet that kills all spam will never exist. "No single product will be enough," Radicati said. "We tell our clients to develop a multilayer strategy, with multiple products."
One thing is sure: The longer companies wait, the bigger the problem will be. "Even in recession years, e-mail volume is growing 35% to 40%," Osterman said. "It just isn't slowing down at all."
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