Tips when making email archiving choices

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So you’re thinking of acquiring a new email archiving tool and need to craft an acquisition and implementation strategy. Here are some things you may want to consider.

Regulations, rules, requirements and product warranties can make buying archiving tools a minefield. By consulting with your corporate legal and compliance people, as well as your company’s business managers, you can get an idea about where those mines are buried. Moreover, you can use your efforts to educate yourself about what requirements must be met by your new tools to build support and acceptance among your legal and compliance people.

When garnering information from legal and business colleagues, it’s important not to lose sight of your role as a technology advocate. While it’s critical to know what your new archiving tools must do to meet compliance and warranty demands, it’s also crucial that those unschooled in the intricacies of storage management understand basic concepts, such as the distinction between backups and archiving and the hard and soft costs attached to storage.

Keep in mind that your new archiving tools need to do more that meet compliance requirements if they’re going to be accepted by your users. After all, you don’t want to trade one headache–jumping through compliance hoops–for another–a disgruntled user base that sees your new technology as an impediment to its doing its job.

The obvious way to get your users to buy in to a technology is to obtain one that’s as friendly as possible. When introducing a new system, many times “friendly” is just another word for familiar. A system that allows users to interact with something they’re familiar with–Lotus Notes, for instance, or Microsoft Outlook–will calm their anxiety about adopting something new.

Remote access to email archives has become increasingly important not only to road warriors but also to an organization’s rank and file who may be working from home as well as in the office. You should take that into consideration when evaluating new archiving tools. The last thing you want to happen after installing a new system is to have frustrated users creating caches on their office computers where they’re squirreling away copies of their emails because it’s the only way they can see their past messages when they’re away from the office.

Because every day there are reports of court cases decided on emails acquired through legal discovery, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that anything electronically stored on a company’s computers is fair game for legal beagles. Moreover, regulators make no distinction between emails and unstructured data when they go hunting for information at a business. Unstructured data–data outside the email umbrella–can account for some 80 per cent of the bits and bytes stored on a company’s servers, personal computers and laptops. You need to take that into account when reviewing new archiving tools. They need to support archiving of multiple data types, such as instant messages, telephone logs and calendar items.

It’s also important when considering archival tools to consider how–once they’re in place– they will help you enforce system policies. For example, it’s crucial–although it won’t make you or your system popular–to avoid exceptions to archiving policies. There may be some political gain in giving in to a senior executive who wants his or her email account exempt from policy because he or she is disgruntled about the system’s purge cycle or is displeased with the way a system displays archived messages, but when the company gets embroiled in litigation and an opposing counsel starts raising questions about why policies weren’t followed, chances are you’ll be left hanging from a flag pole twisting in the wind alone.

Another policy you’ll want to implement is control of email stubs. You’ll want to trash stubs every 90 to 180 days. Retaining the stubs for too long can impact your system’s performance and the daily irritation of hearing a chorus of “Why is the system so slow?” wherever you go. Since not all archival products dump the stubs when files reach the end of their retention period, that’s a feature you may want to make sure is included in your new archival tool.

Finally, you’ll want to thoroughly vet how a potential archiving system will handle copies of local email files. These files are commonly stored in PST files for Microsoft Exchange and NSF for IBM Notes. Those files are scattered throughout your organization on users’ computers and can be a nightmare for your retention program. Not only is finding those files a horror show when an opponent’s lawyers appear on the doorstep during the discovery process but the information in them can be ticking time bombs. Some systems allow you to block the creation of such files, but if that’s done, you’ll want to make sure your archiving software can accommodate your users’ legitimate needs to access their historical emails.

Written by John P Mello Jr

John Mello is a freelance writer who has written about business and technical subjects for more than 25 years. He is frequent contributor to the ECT News Network and his work has appeared in a number of periodicals, including Byte magazine, PC World, Computerworld, CIO magazine and the Boston Globe

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