Open-records requests, internal investigations and legal inquiries usually mean one thing to state and county CIOs: a lot of time spent sifting through multiple backup tapes in an effort to locate e-mail that is the proverbial needle in their organization's growing digital haystacks.
Curtis Rawlings, assistant CIO of information systems for DeKalb County, in Decatur, Ga., knows the feeling. DeKalb receives many open-records requests that require Rawlings and his team to comb through old e-mail for applicable data. Such searches can range from simple to highly complex. Before implementing Symantec Enterprise Vault for e-mail archiving, Rawlings used to spend anywhere from an hour to 20 hours on such searches.
"I might have to do multiple searches, including going to the current person's mailbox store and checking that,” says Rawlings. “If people deleted anything, I'd have to go to my backup tapes. It might take 12 different searches to look for the information." If backup tapes were needed, this could extend the process by six to eight hours while IT set up a test environment to load the tapes and then search them.
Needs and Benefits
Rawlings says Enterprise Vault helps him perform the same searches in a fraction of the time. "It can cut my time down from many man hours to, in some cases, a few minutes." Rawlings also credits the move to e-mail archiving with better performance and availability on his primary e-mail stores, not to mention savings in e-mail storage costs.
The ability to focus a search in one place as opposed to many (such as the mail server, local .PST files and backup tapes) can save significant time, according to George Socha, lawyer and president of Socha Consulting. Through his St. Paul, Minn.,-based company (www.sochaconsulting.com/contact.htm), Socha advises organizations on e-discovery and automated litigation-support issues and spearheads development of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model. (http://edrm.net/).
E-mail industry expert Michael Osterman touts the benefits of e-mail archiving. "I almost like to call archiving a Swiss Army Knife of messaging technology because it does so many things," says Osterman, president of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash. (www.ostermanresearch.com/contact.htm).
From an improved ability to meet compliance and e-discovery requests to better storage management and opportunities for knowledge management, Osterman is convinced most organizations can benefit from use of an e-mail archiving solution. This can be especially true for state or county government entities dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests or their own breed of sunshine laws, he says.
"You really have to do a risk analysis to determine whether or not you need to do archiving," Osterman says. “I think in most cases, you'll need to do it. But you may not need every bell and whistle. Depending on your need, you might be able to implement a $10,000 appliance for a smaller department."
The State of Connecticut's Department of Information Technology recently posted online a detailed e-mail archiving request for proposal. According to the RFP, a valid system must archive data from 20,000 mailboxes, while scaling to encompass twice that amount in future. It also needs to support the needs of different organizational units or agencies, each with their own potential archival and retention policy.
One area also gaining the state's attention was the archival of other Microsoft Exchange items beyond e-mail, such as Calendars, Tasks and Notes. "Until recently, most e-mail archiving systems only archived incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and their attachments,” Socha says. That appears to be changing with the latest crop of solutions.
How It Works
At their core, most e-mail archiving products sit somewhere in the messaging stream, indexing the contents of messages coming and going and copying the messages themselves to another locale. When it comes to searching or retrieving archived data, web interfaces and Outlook plug-ins are often incorporated to make retrieval easier and virtually transparent to users working within traditional inboxes.
Depending on the solution, search functions and the type of architecture used to perform the task will vary. So, too, will performance and the system's ability to scale, index and allow for multiple simultaneous searches. When you get it right, the ease and cost savings can be tremendous. When you get it wrong, frustration and a likely system overhaul are probable.
Organizations typically have three choices for deploying e-mail archiving: as software, a combined hardware/software appliance, or a managed service offered by an outside provider.
DeKalb County chose to go the software route with Enterprise Vault. New York's Broome County IT department went a different route, however, opting for an ArcMail Defender U220 appliance from ArcMail Technology. After hearing about rising compliance and e-discovery requirements across the state, Broome County Director of IT and CIO Kim McKinney began exploring how ArcMail Technology's Defender appliance could help the county archive e-mail from an estimated 2,000 Exchange Server 2003 mailboxes.
The initial intent for the archival system, she says, was to archive e-mail and allow people to retrieve items they might have previously deleted. According to Gary Pullis, a system administrator for the county, Defender passed early tests, and the Binghamton, N.Y.-based IT department easily added it to existing e-mail operations.
Both Pullis and McKinney readily admit that the types of complex e-discovery requests they now receive might tax the county's initial goals for the system. Integrated voice mail, now also archived by Defender, has driven up the county's original estimate of the storage capacity needed to house the archive.
Today, Defender archives 3.9 million messages, or approximately 430 gigabytes of data. At the county's current rate of use, Pullis estimates the appliance should hold roughly three years of archived mail.
For those hesitant to move forward with e-mail archiving, McKinney recommends looking at how often FOIA requests come up, and how many hundreds of hours might be spent in responding. "In government, it can be kind of hard to justify [the investment] based on staff time," she says. "We were getting several requests a week. If we didn't have an appliance like this, we wouldn't be able to respond to them."
As you evaluate e-mail archiving wares to determine which best meets your organization’s need, consider these questions regarding performance and scalability:
- How scalable is the solution in terms of number of users supported, number of servers supported, message throughput per hour, number of records supported and number of reviewers for pre- and post-send management?
- Can the vendor provide the results of performance and stress tests in real-world settings?
- To what extent does search and retrieval performance suffer as the number of records in the archive increases?
- What load-balancing functions are built into the product?