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Is email your corporate Achilles' heel?

A look at archiving

Clearly a more efficient means of email storage is needed to enable your organisation to satisfy potential legal and regulatory requirements. This is where email archiving comes in and it has a number of important differences from the backup of your message store.

The primary function of a backup is to provide a copy of valuable data that can be used in the event of failure or loss of the original. Archives, meanwhile, are designed for the collection and storage of large amounts of historical data and records. In effect the two are compleimentary technologies.

The movement of older email data to the archive is done automatically under policy control. Items can be selected by age, large items with attachments can be moved first, and content can be flagged so that non-important messages containing 'lunch' and 'football' are not added to the archive. Retention policies define how long to keep types of email and once outside of this period emails are automatically deleted.

As far as the user is concerned, however, very little has changed - the archived emails can be marked with an icon and are restorable from the archive with the click of a button. All functions such as reply and forward are still available and the advanced search functionality, including attachments and zip files, makes locating required emails far simpler.

Mailbox archiving provides a reliable way of storing large amounts of electronic data whilst at the same time making the information easily available to users and in the case of a legal dispute.

For industries such as financial services, where regulatory requirements dictate the retention of critical information, email archiving can help ensure compliance. Journal archiving, which can be used instead of, or alongside mailbox archiving, automatically takes a copy of a message as soon as it is sent or received and stores it in a separate journal archive, preventing tampering or user interference.

Auditors or the legal department can then be granted privileged access to search the journal archives with an audit trail keeping track of the entire process in case of regulatory review.

The importance of email retention is shown by the experience of Norwich Union. The UK insurance giant was forced into an out of court settlement of £450,000 over alleged email defamation of a competitor because the emails sent by Norwich Union staff had been deleted by the time the writ had been issued.

Moreover, whilst any email is potentially admissible in court, having an email that can be demonstrated to have been stored in a way that prevents tampering increases its evidential weight.

Horror stories, such as Norwich Union, all help emphasise the importance of effective email management and archiving, but unless an organisation has been at the wrong end of an expensive email lawsuit it is all too tempting to think 'it will never happen to us'. Legal and regulatory compliance certainly offer a less tangible ROI, but email archiving also has more definable benefits.

Centralised storage in an archive removes the need to rely on .pst files, eliminating the storage burden they create. Talbot Underwriting, insurance specialists working at Lloyds, claim to have reduced 90GB of .pst files down to 19GB through the use of email archiving.

The removal of old messages to the archive means email databases are now smaller with the result that backups and restores require much less time downtime. Archiving also removes the housekeeping load from administrators, whilst users are kept happy because they no longer have to battle with unwieldy .pst files and mailbox quotas.

Email archiving is still a relatively new industry, but analysts the META Group are predicting the industry will grow from $70 million to $450 million in 2007 as companies increasingly recognise the importance of such tools. Specialist messaging analysts, The Radicati Group, predict an even larger market, reaching $1.5bn by 2007.

In the post-Enron world and at a time when society becomes evermore litigious, IT managers need to be aware of the increasing business risks associated with the management and storage of emails. Not taking the appropriate steps now has the potential to prove an expensive and embarrassing mistake a few years down the line. In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood you have to ask yourself 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya?