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Eleven considerations to control an e-mail environment

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E-mail has become the lifeblood of many business processes, from business communication to tech support and e-commerce.

According to Gartner research, e-mail volume in organisations is growing, typically, by more than 30% annually, and the average user receives 7Mb of data per day via e-mail.
“As a result of this growth, the handling of e-mail has become a critical business, IT and regulatory issue, driving the need for e-mail archiving solutions,” says Mark Edwards, director of product and services at technology solutions and people resources integrator, Intuate Group.
He adds that most organisations looking for an e-mail archiving solution are motivated by four reasons: mailbox/server management; compliance/records retention; electronic discovery/litigation support; and knowledge management/IP protection.
“In addition to these challenges, IT departments want to know how to control costs associated with the e-mail environment while keeping important data accessible for business, legal and regulatory users,” he says.
With these escalating demands comes new considerations for organisations selecting e-mail archiving solutions. Edwards points out that while analysts talk about the break-even point between on-premise and software as a service (SaaS) e-mail archiving solutions, the increasing demands on e-mail archives are fundamentally changing the equation.
He says that break-even calculations were often based on older hosted archiving models, with limited functionality and high pricing based on very expensive storage.
“SaaS e-mail solutions built on the latest grid technology and from the right vendor can satisfy new archiving demands reliably and cost-effectively in ways that an on-premise solution cannot, with pay-as-you-go pricing, robust technology and expertise to help you meet emerging regulatory, legal and other requirements.
"These solutions must also be considered in the context of overall organisational e-mail needs: the right archiving solution can simplify and strengthen your general e-mail management systems and processes,” explains Edwards.
He lists a set of 11 core considerations for choosing e-mail archiving solutions:
* Completeness of archived data – the archiving solution should be able to store and retrieve all copies and versions of an e-mail, along with associated metadata and attachments.
* Search quality – consider performance, accuracy and ease of use. “Often, pre-deployment testing is done with small amounts of data and as the archive size and user base increase, users and IT are dismayed at the time it takes to conduct a search and the even longer time it takes to extract files from the archive,” says Edwards.
* Ease of use – e-mail archiving solutions should integrate with the user’s existing e-mail environment and tools, so that access and retrieval are done through the user’s normal environment.
“As every IT department knows, user dissatisfaction quickly translates to more work, costs and headaches for IT personnel."
* Capacity – archiving systems must be able to manage, retrieve and deliver large volumes of data. According to Edwards, volume requirements can expand very rapidly with new regulatory requirements, new legal interpretations or policy refinements. This means archiving systems must be able to scale quickly.
* Accessibility – to ensure productivity and business process flow, users should be able to access the archive from anywhere they can access their primary e-mail system.
However, archiving solutions also need to be considered in the context of the organisation’s overall e-mail management requirements and challenges. They should thus offer:
* Ease of administration – archiving can add significantly to the complexity of e-mail management systems if it requires administrators to learn one more interface. In general, the broader and more integrated the archiving solution is with e-mail management functionality, the simpler it will be for administrators to manage.
* Security – the e-mail archive should have role-based access controls and privilege levels to provide basic security and the archive should be housed in a secure data centre.
* Confidentiality – the archived data must be encrypted both at rest in the archive and in transit to and from the primary e-mail system.
* Integrity – data integrity should be maintained through cryptographic hashing to prove the data hasn’t been tampered with and also through chain of custody metadata.
* Availability – continuous availability can be ensured with an archive that includes multiple, mirrored copies of originals. “Mirroring is less vulnerable than traditional copying,” says Edwards.
* Cost – cost comparisons should include both hard and soft costs. That is both capital outlays and TCO. To begin with an on-premise e-mail archiving system typically requires a database, backup and replication server, a storage area network, archiving software and search software.
He adds: “The initial estimates for storage and server hardware can quickly go by the wayside if slow backups or poor search performance start impacting user productivity and satisfaction, as well as if legal counsel suddenly changes retention requirements and doubles the amount of information that must be retained.
"System management costs can also multiply as administrators have to upgrade and patch software as well as re-index the archived data.”
Accordingly, the priority of these considerations will depend on business requirements, but all of them should be considered in choosing an e-mail archiving solution.
“Leveraging the latest technology and architected with all the functionality you need, a ready-to-use online SaaS solution from an experienced, proven vendor can provide everything an enterprise needs, removing the growing risks and complexities of business e-mail management with a single platform.
“Business is risky enough. The e-mail archiving system shouldn’t be a liability. The right solution will mitigate key risks and deliver business advantage with less cost and effort on your part,” concludes Edwards.