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What, where and how long? The issues of archiving e-mail

For an e-mail admin, deciding what to archive, where to put it and how long to keep it can cause a headache. Here two execs from storage consulting firm Contoural Inc. offer their advice on archiving.

How muddled is the message on e-mail archiving? When Contoural Inc., a data and storage consulting firm, surveyed Fortune 500 companies, it found that one-third of the companies in the sample saved all e-mail, one-third deleted some messages and one-third didn't know what to do.

"There's a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about e-mail archiving," said Mark Diamond, president, Contoural. "This is clearly on the mind of senior management and attorneys, but a lot of companies aren't really sure what to archive or how much it's going to cost."

At a recent e-mail archiving seminar sponsored by WinStorage magazine (a partner of, Diamond and colleague Bill Tolson, principal analyst at Contoural, offered messaging and storage administrators advice on planning and implementing an e-mail archiving strategy.

A lot of companies aren't really sure what to archive or how much it's going to cost.
Mark Diamond
presidentContoural Inc.

Start with a policy

First things first. A company needs a data retention policy, preferably not one that's dated 1992 or that contains the word "paper." While it may be tempting to have the legal department create this policy itself, everyone -- HR, customer support, finance, IT and legal -- needs to get involved, Diamond said.

Most companies cite compliance as the impetus for archiving, but archiving policies should also take into consideration storage costs, effects on business productivity, privacy concerns and new trends in litigation, Diamond said.

A good policy will also require nothing of an end user. One of Contoural's clients drafted a 300-page document retention schedule and told users to save everything themselves. Bad idea. Instead, let end users know that not only is every e-mail being saved, but that any e-mail has the potential to end up on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, Tolson said. "You do this in training and it'll cut down on the number of questionable e-mails," he added.

Determine your needs

Policy in hand, the next step is deciding on an archiving solution. Here are a few factors that will determine how comprehensive your solution should be. (To help answer the obvious question -- "How much space will I need?" -- Coutoural offers a storage requirements calculator.)

  • The e-mails themselves: If users send lots of internal messages with big attachments to dozens of colleagues, single-instance storage is worth a look, Tolson said. This stores only one copy of an e-mail sent to multiple recipients. It's usually an add-on to standard vendor solutions.

  • Journaling: This is a nearly fail-safe archiving option that captures every incoming message, then sends a copy to the end user's inbox. While this ensures that every e-mail is archived as it is received, the downside is that it could max out bandwidth, Tolson said. Make sure that your company's bandwidth can handle what a vendor requires for this service.

  • Backup: Even though you have an archive server, you still need to back up your e-mail server. The archive server should be backed up too, Tolson said.
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  • Corporate growth: Companies adding employees quickly should project several years out when considering storage requirements, Tolson said. Meanwhile, companies looking to buy should look at archiving solutions that accommodate both Notes and Exchange, since there's a 50-50 chance that the acquired company won't use Notes.

  • Time: If your company must keep e-mails for decades, archiving in an open-source format like XML is a good idea, Tolson said. That way, the data can survive mergers, acquisitions, changing technology or the bankruptcy of the archiving appliance vendor.

  • Storage: Most e-mail is stored on a company's fastest servers, but it doesn't have to be. You can usually get by with a "vanilla Pentium" or even unused servers sitting in the office closet, Tolson said. And once a message is a year old, it's time to move it to a tape library. "Do you want 45 terabytes sitting on a spinning disk five years from now, or do you want it on a tape structure? The end user, 99 times out of 100, is not going to notice a change in performance," Tolson said.

    Don't sweat the small stuff, spam

    E-mail only makes up 5-10% of a typical company's data space, Diamond said. Of that space, more than 90% is occupied by attachments; of that remainder, only one message out of 10 is a personal one. So, Diamond advised, don't waste time weeding out the "where should we go for lunch" e-mails.

    And for archiving purposes, spam shouldn't be a concern either. "If it was never intended to be viewed by a human," Diamond said, "you don't have to save it."

    Our e-mail archiving seminar series with Mark Diamond and Bill Tolson is coming to a city near you, for the latest dates and locations click here.

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