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Managing e-mail as a business process.

Recent surveys reveal what we all know by direct experience to be true--e-mail is the number one form of business communication. When compared with traditional telephone, voice mail and fax communication, e-mail is consistently rated as the business communication tool that users rely on the most. All this hype around e-mail has made the messaging server the most critical application in the data center and has also made it a popular topic in board room discussions with regards to managing corporate risk for compliance and litigation.

Due in part to this demand for improved e-mail management and the need to protect the valuable business information that e-mail contains, e-mail must be managed as an important business process. This article will review three major processes that impact e-mail management--retention, disposition and accessibility and it will discuss, through a specific example of a unique solution, how third party applications for e-mail archive are designed to manage all three processes more efficiently than native messaging applications.

E-mail contains valuable business information that is accessed daily by business users and must be preserved for legal and regulatory reasons just like paper records. The first business process that concerns e-mail is retention. The fact that e-mail is an electronic format makes it easy to transport and copy for retention purposes; but it also allows it to move easily throughout the organization into untraceable locations. When e-mail becomes spread across the organization on messaging servers, network shares and desktops, it cannot be managed effectively for retention.

A challenge for managing the retention process is to examine each possible storage location and decide on policies for its use. For example, Microsoft Personal Store (.PST) files are a popular local storage location for Microsoft Exchange e-mail data. PST's are useful for local e-mail storage but they create the opportunity for e-mail to be copied to network servers and home PC's using any available storage media. PST files are an example of an e-mail storage method that must be managed appropriately for retention.

Good business practice is to maintain a copy of all e-mail in a central repository. Because it is impractical to keep track of all the original copies of e-mail, the recommended method is to keep a copy of all e-mail on the messaging server or alternatively in an e-mail archive system. An e-mail archive solution is a special purpose messaging application designed to keep copies of all e-mail in a repository that is separate from the messaging server. The basic concept is for the messaging server to be dedicated to processing e-mail traffic while the e-mail archive server is dedicated to retaining e-mail for long term storage.

Once e-mail is stored in a central repository, it is retained in its original format and protected against tampering. Password access, non-reputable media and digital signatures are just a sample of the methods available to ensure the integrity of e-mail stored in a central repository. For storage efficiency, e-mail can be compressed, duplicates removed and indexed for fast access.

The second business process that concerns e-mail management is disposition. Depending on business practice, regulatory guidelines and legal mandates, you must be able to delete e-mail from the central repository. Here again an e-mail archive application can serve disposition with automated policies that are configurable to delete messages from the archive after the retention period expires. If the retention policies are effective in retaining e-mail in a central repository, then the disposition policies are equally effective.

It is a common requirement should a legal dispute begin that any disposition schedule be placed on hold and any message deletion jobs be stopped. When e-mail data is destroyed during an investigation, courts commonly infer that the defendant must have been trying to hide some important data and the worst is assumed. All e-mail archive solutions include a feature for disposition hold.

The third business process that impacts e-mail management is accessibility. It is not useful to store large amounts of e-mail if it cannot be easily searched and retrieved. Basic search methods rely on an indexed e-mail repository and a dedicated search interface. Auditors must be able to search thousands of e-mail records for offensive content, saving the hours and days of time it would take to search the equivalent amount of e-mail data stored on backup tapes.

All messaging applications include native tools for searching the messaging servers and all e-mail archive solutions include search tools for searching the archive. Search tools typically take input for message content, date and send and receive names to quickly find e-mail for an investigation. Search results can be stored in a local folder and exported for additional analysis. When a central e-mail archive is not available, the backup tapes for the messaging server must be searched. This process is very time consuming and can consume days of time and millions of dollars of expense. Many companies faced with the challenge of producing e-mail records from backup tapes have chosen to settle out-of-court rather than incur the cost of searching tapes.

Managing e-mail as a business process involves the three major areas of retention, disposition and accessibility. Messaging applications provide native tools and methods that can be applied for these processes, but new, dedicated third party applications for e-mail archive are designed to manage all three processes most efficiently.

As an example, Mimosa Systems' NearPoint for Microsoft Server has taken a unified approach to managing e-mail data. NearPoint manages e-mail in a central indexed repository and retains it according to easily definable retention policies. E-mail is disposed automatically when the retention periods expire. Disposition can be frozen if an investigation begins and auditors can access and search the entire e-mail repository via Outlook using one of three advanced search tools. Search results can be collected and stored in Outlook folders and saved for off-line analysis. Mimosa also goes one step further by allowing individual end users self-service access to their mailboxes making it easier to manage months and years worth of e-mail.

As the number one form of business communication, it is necessary to manage e-mail as an important business process and address its needs for retention, disposition and accessibility. Native messaging tools and third party e-mail archive applications provide the tools and methods to effectively manage e-mail and work in conjunction with your internal business practices to protect valuable business information contained in e-mail and reduce the risks of litigation and compliance fines.

Bob Spurzem is senior product marketing manager at Mimosa Systems, Inc., Santa Clara, CA

www.mimosasystems.com
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Title Annotation:Storage Management
Author:Spurzem, Bob
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:1086
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