By Cath Everett, Contributor
UK users are beginning to turn to email archiving to help them deal with e-discovery and backup, auditing concerns and mailbox administration load. Find out why data centre managers at Brunel University, London taxi firm Addison Lee and high-tech PR agency Johnson King implemented email archiving systems, discover their implementation tips and learn how the technology has benefitted each firm.
Table of contents:
>>Brunel University uses email archiving for e-discovery, backup efficiency
>>London taxi firm relies on email archiving for auditing and cost-saving
>>High-tech PR agency opts for email archiving for performance
Brunel University introduced an email archiving system to help it deal with internal and external compliance issues, and to reduce lengthy data backup times.
The West London educational establishment found that it had so much data to back up every day that the process was routinely taking 24 hours. The university began exploring whether it could remove a section of the data and deal with it in a different way to reduce the backup window. Email was the most obvious answer as it was the largest single chunk of data, comprising between 15% and 60% of the total in any one day.
At the same time, the university decided to use this opportunity to deal more effectively with an increasing number of compliance regulations. Not only did it need to tackle external drivers such as the Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act and growing environmental regulations, it had to take into account internal constraints centered on dispute resolution, such as those relating to human resource (HR) activity and degree classifications.
After evaluating a range of products the university declined to name, Hewlett-Packard's Integrated Archive Platform (IAP) was chosen. The offering comprises a rack-mounted system that includes grid-based server and storage functionality, as well as policy management, context indexing and search software.
"It was the only offering we found that wasn't software-based, which would mean that it had to be backed up," explained Iain Liddell, Brunel University's policy manager. "IAP gives us two copies of everything as it's all duplicated in one box."
The organisation also implemented a second box at its remote disaster recovery (DR) site to which data is replicated. "So there's actually four of everything, which is why we were able to release email from normal backup," Liddell said. "We still back up email that's kept on Exchange, but that's only six months' worth, so backup is now well within 24 hours."
Before rollout, however, Brunel University undertook an initial pilot project with the IT department's 50 staff before including another 30 media services personnel. It then consulted with student and trade unions to reassure them the aim was not to introduce intrusive surveillance measures.
Legal advisors were consulted with to draw up "ethically sound" policies and procedures. These ensured that only the intended recipients could view emails unless compliance-based searches became necessary. If such a search is needed, a "twin heart" password is employed in which two authorised individuals – the Secretary to the Council and the Information Access Officer – each supply one half of the password.
Any activity is audited independently and a formal process has been introduced to cope with authorised parties' absence due to sickness or holiday. "We spent a good bit of time on this to ensure that all of the checks and balances were in place. It's crucial to getting buy-in and the confidence of users," Liddell said.
The e-discovery mechanism in the email archiving system has reduced the amount of time spent on Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act investigations from an average of a fortnight to a single morning – an important factor when Freedom of Information Act requests average one per week. Awareness of the existence of the new e-discovery mechanism has likewise cut the number of frivolous claims and this has, in turn, saved the university time and money.
The rollout took place over the three month academic holiday period in mid-2007. One department per week was migrated to the new system to enable time for half a terabyte of email to be ingested, and to ensure that the more than 2,000 users were adequately supported during the move.
Student-to-student messages were not included in the archive as they would have increased the amount of email dealt with tenfold, but all correspondence between staff and students and local and external academics was retained as part of the formal recordkeeping practice. Retention policies will be reviewed in the future, but currently stand at seven years – the typical length of time of a commercial contract.
The aim is to reduce initial email retention to three months before archiving takes place, followed by a month, before eventually moving to instant journaling. "If an email box is slim and trim, it goes a lot faster, and as people use more mobile devices, fast-acting messaging becomes more important," Liddell said.
Although it may take a generation, Liddell believes it is important to turn people's views of an inbox around so that they no longer see it as a repository but rather as a transient place for sending and receiving email. "As to why we'd rather use an archiving system than Exchange, it's because it's built for effective searching and browsing," Liddell said.
Without a searchable archive, Addison Lee was unable to prove one way or the other that the customer had failed to send it an email indicating a change of address. The situation resulted in invoices being sent to the wrong contact for three months.
As a result, the London-based company decided to introduce an email archiving solution that could provide it with evidence if such a dispute were to happen again. Approximately 350 of its 600 personnel use email regularly.
"We had great auditing systems everywhere else, but not for email as we didn't consider it to be a core system, that is, one that runs the business or pays suppliers," said Paul Caney, IT manager at Addison Lee. "But after the lost email situation there was an internal drive to increase professionalism in this area and to add another weapon to our arsenal for recording information."
Another factor was saving money. The organisation had four Microsoft 2003 Exchange Servers in place, each with approximately 75 GB of capacity, but they were starting to hit their capacity thresholds. To improve performance by adding another machine would have cost £10,000 and taken Addison Lee beyond its contracted limit for offsite backup into the next payment tier, which was priced at £40,000 per 100 GB of additional storage capacity.
As an interim measure, the company introduced limits on the size of staff mailboxes, but the move was unpopular. "When staff hit their limit, they were sent an email asking them to start deleting things. But the problem is that most people expect to keep most of their emails these days and management would override us as they'd say certain documents were required for business purposes," Caney explained.
As a result, Addison Lee went out to tender for an email archiving system approximately 18 months ago. After evaluating CA's Message Manager, Google's Postini service and Symantec's Enterprise Vault, the firm opted for Mimosa Systems' NearPoint offering.
"Enterprise Vault is probably the best known, but it has a higher cost of ownership and we would have had to hire a database administrator to look after it. Mimosa was the right price for us. Running costs weren't too high and our existing Exchange guys could support it," Caney said.
While the price of services-based offerings "worked out very expensive at the time," they have "started to come down rapidly," which means the company would be more likely to consider such an offering if it were starting now, he added.
Addison Lee, which has an IT staff of 12, took three months to implement its Mimosa system on a part-time basis. The move required the purchase of a new server to run it, the addition of host bus adapters (HBAs) to connect the new machine to the firm's existing storage-area network (SAN), error checking and staff training.
Automatic retention policies also needed to be set up. While these vary for different departments, the most common practice is to archive emails after three months to restrict mailbox sizes.
A key benefit of the move relates to backup activity. Because the firm has been able to cut the number of Exchange Servers it uses down to three, each holding approximately 50 GB of email, its backup window has narrowed significantly. "Because, as a taxi company, we operate 24/7, we have email users at all times of the day and night. But people would moan about how slow the system became when we were doing backup at night so reducing the window has reduced that pain," Caney said.
The organisation has now integrated its email archiving system with a newly introduced workflow-based document management system to enable users to find documents using the same search mechanism.
Although high-tech PR agency Johnson King employs only 20 staff, the number of emails it receives —approximately 100,000 per month—is equivalent to that of a much larger company.
As a result, the London-based firm had to introduce limits on its Microsoft Outlook mailboxes of 500 MB per user and ensure that employees cleared them out once a month in a process that generally took between two and three hours.
The capacity of the firm's Microsoft Exchange Server was 16 GB, which as Mike King, the agency's managing director, pointed out "sounds [like] a lot, [but] when you're receiving attachments with 10 MB presentations and the like regularly, it gets used up pretty quickly." Email is one of Johnson King's primary means of communication, as most of its clients are US-based high-tech companies that use the medium more than most.
"We had policies in place to remind people to clear their mailboxes, but they found it annoying and time-consuming," King said. "We also had concerns from a quality point of view — it's a subjective decision about what to keep or not. Everyone has deleted things they shouldn't, and we didn't want to have to put people in that position."
When employees failed to undertake the monthly clean-up, the email service became slow, clunky and was prone to fall over. Therefore, when a former client went to head up German archiving vendor GFT inbox, the agency decided to evaluate its email offering before purchasing an entry-level product for £5,000.
"I was aware of email archiving systems, but thought it was just for big companies. What appealed was that the company was a specialist in this area and they had an entry-level product for small- to medium-sized businesses. A lot of systems are all-encompassing [and] include document and voice archiving, etc., but we don't need all of that as we have quite straightforward requirements," King said.
The product, which sits on a separate server and has its own storage capacity that can be supplemented by adding external hard disks, was implemented by the supplier in a day. Johnson King has no internal IT department, instead obtaining support from a third-party provider.
But the company also introduced simple archiving policies. When an email arrives at a user's mailbox, a copy is taken and stored in the compliance journal. After 30 days, the email is replaced by a link, and after a year, the link is removed to boost capacity. The resultant archive of emails, which Johnson King keeps indefinitely, can then be accessed using a search function.
"It's a bit 'belt and braces' because we don't need to keep every email, but the system can cope and with any business communications, we prefer to err on the side of caution," King said. "Even straightforward things like press releases need to be signed off by legal departments, so they're useful to have if there are any queries."
This was first published in August 2009