Cloud computing power to battle email archival woes at CSS Corp.

Two years ago, growing internal storage requirements prompted CSS Corp. to consider cloud computing for email archival. Today the organization looks back in comfort. What happened?

With the number of employees and mailboxes rising and the need to store data for at least seven years, Chennai-based IT services player CSS indeed faced a situation. A worried Bobby Varghese, IT Head, put on his thinking cap, and realized it was time for innovation. Naturally, he hit upon an innovator — Amazon was amazing. "Our storage resources came under stress," recalls Varghese. "After evaluating several options we picked Amazon to get rid of our e-mail archival worries."

For Varghese, cloud computing was not only the need of the hour, but an attractive idea "When we were evaluating options to increase storage, cloud computing seemed to be an attractive proposition and Amazon was the standard provider available in the market at that time," he says.

Cheap storage and computing power moved him towards this technology. Today, Varghese uses 1.5 TB of space provided by Amazon at 10 cents/GB/month. "Storage prices are crashing, but two years back, storage was not as cheap as it is today," Varghese says.

The innovation labs at CSS Corp designed a tool to automatically archive email from the email server. Users have a browser interface to access archived emails from the cloud whenever needed.

Time for turnaround

Before the cloud, the email archival process at CSS would first run a backup cycle to move data from the mailbox server to backup disks. After a year of saving them on these disks, the data was moved to backup tapes. Once the tape drives were ready, they also needed to be stored safely at an offline location, the schedule and logs of which needed to be maintained by the IT manager whose job would also include checking these logs to ensure the old emails were safe.

This process increased CSS' need for hard disk as well as tape drives. After the email archival process was completed, if the user wished to refer back to an old email for purpose of audit or any other reason, he or she would have to raise a ticket with the IT admin who would then look through the back-up tapes and find the employee's email . "The turnaround time for completion of such a request was anywhere between 24 and 48 hours," recollects Varghese. He was looking for a low-cost, low-response time and easy-to-use solution.

The innovation labs at CSS Corp. designed a tool to automatically archive email from the mail server. Users have a browser interface to access archived emails from the cloud whenever needed.

All smooth sailing

The tool developed by CSS has been deployed on the cloud to direct emails from the mailbox to Amazon's cloud environment automatically. It is divided into two parts. One runs on CSS' servers and the other on the cloud. The two applications have to be aligned to ensure the archival process takes place smoothly. The application that runs on the cloud has been configured to pick up email from the IP address of the server at CSS Corp.

On the cloud, employees can scan through old email and cull out what's needed through the browser interface. The email archival process uses Internet bandwidth to move data to the cloud and not a dedicated line. "The archival process is scheduled to run when Internet usage is lean," says Varghese. "If the email volume is large, Amazon downloads the bulk data for the employee and has it shipped with a turnaround time of four days."

This tool has been deployed to move freshly generated emails to the cloud. The older emails currently backed up on tape drives have not been migrated. Varghese is in no hurry.

Somewhere, but safe

Just like any other deployment on the private cloud, Varghese's data is hosted on Amazon's storage, but he is not aware of the exact location. "It could be anywhere in Amazon's data-centers spread across the world," he says. His email archival tool ensured that the data sent to the cloud is encrypted and hence he is not concerned about where the data is stored. CSS' SLA with the cloud provider makes sure the data is safe.

"In the agreement with Amazon, we have specified billing details, security expectations and also how Amazon would arrange to partition the various cloud user spaces," says Varghese.

Accordingly, in three or four years, if CSS runs out of storage space provided on the cloud, it can purchase more or choose backup storage on tapes. Varghese is happy with 99.9% uptime provided by Amazon.

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