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Issue of September 2005 
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Enterprise e-mail

Controlling corporate e-mail

Love it or loath it, e-mail is a way of life. There's always a way to manage the mountains of information it creates, and convert the same to a business’ advantage. Controlling corporate e-mail is the way forward. by Soutiman Das Gupta.

E-mail forms the bedrock of business communications, and will continue to do so for many more years. In the words of Frank Luksic, Director, Workplace, Portal & Collaboration Software, IBM Software Group, “Enterprise users have a mail-centric approach to work. They prefer to work out of their mailboxes, and their personal productivity and communication revolves around the mail systems.”

A significant amount of the information we need to do our jobs is kept within an e-mail system. “Over 80 percent of us hang on to e-mail immediately after reading it,” states Marcus Loh, Business Manager, Enterprise Vault, Asia South, Symantec.

THE GOOD AND BAD

This style of functioning has its advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that e-mail is present everywhere. All types of business, buyers, sellers and manufacturers now use it. E-mail is easy to use and access, and messages can be sent to any destination anywhere in the world almost instantaneously. E-mail is taken for granted in almost any business today, and its properties have made it a vital enabler.

The disadvantages of e-mail are also aplenty and can be inhibiting at times. The biggest is that the use of an inbox for an e-mail ‘base’ does not allow a company to organise communication. To get the maximum business advantage from e-mail, organisations must put procedures in place for archiving, storing and retrieving e-mail in a very short time. These must be backed by a well-planned e-mail management strategy to create a hassle-free business communications infrastructure.

E-MAIL MANAGEMENT

E-mail management is a critical enterprise requirement today. If you consider the sheer volume of incoming and outgoing e-mail that the average enterprise sees in a day, then the need for an effective system to sort, categorise, filter and store the vast volume of e-mail will be adjudged to be beyond doubt.

“It is no longer sufficient for enterprises to weed out spam and viruses, and pass the remaining incoming e-mail to a user,” comments Sharad Sanghi, Managing Director, NetMagic Solutions. What is needed instead is an e-mail management strategy. E-mail management reduces the burden on e-mail servers, and transforms e-mail from an isolated knowledge source visible only to the person to whom it is addressed into an asset that can be shared across offices, easily and securely.

Executive Summary
Archiving e-mail
CIOs must use an e-mail management and archival policy along with suitable tools to comply with regulations and empower their business.

Power pill
Traditional e-mail solutions are not capable of offering management and archival features. New tools with flexible functionality coupled with management policies are needed.

MANAGEMENT STRATEGY

A typical e-mail management strategy will include policies and provisions for aspects such as sorting, archiving, user management, spam or virus filtering, compliance with the company’s internal guidelines, and compliance with regulations.

“When considering an e-mail management strategy it’s essential to include a policy of retention and deletion of e-mail. It’s the need of the hour,” says Rajiv Desai, Director, Operations, Euronet Services India.

“E-mail archiving should also be complemented with e-mail management in order to set the norms of controlled retention and destruction of e-mail fully driven by the company’s e-mail policy,” he adds.

An ideal mail solution that will allow an enterprise user to comply with mail management guidelines should have a number of features. (See box: Features of E-mail Management Solutions)

Features of an ideal e-mail management solution

The ideal e-mail management program should have the following capabilities:

  • E-mail addressable folders: Each e-mail folder can be assigned a unique e-mail address. Users can cc or forward messages directly to the relevant e-mail folder.
  • Drag and drop capability: Users simply drag e-mail messages from the Notes or Outlook inbox into the appropriate work folder. E-mail attachments can be filed as part of the original message or as separate files with their own profiles and associated metadata.
  • Automatic profiling: Messages and attachments inherit the security and metadata settings from the e-mail folder in which they are being stored, virtually eliminating the need for manual entry of profile information.
  • Intelligent duplicate detection: Eliminates redundancies and reduces storage requirements.
  • Flexible search criteria: E-mail, attachments, and documents can be searched using keyword and full-text search. Queries can be performed on e-mail messages and attachments, or documents, or all at the same time.

ARCHIVAL HELPS

E-mail archiving should also be complemented with e-mail management in order to set the norms of controlled retention and destruction of e-mail fully driven by a company's e-mail policy

Rajiv Desai
Director, Operations
Euronet Services India

While telephone conversations don’t necessarily leave a trail, e-mail does. Lately, with Indian companies, and more so, MNCs being subject to regulatory compliance, enterprises know that they are now required by law to archive all e-mail communication for a legally stipulated period of time.

Being able to quickly search through hundreds or thousands of e-mail messages for a particular one is an efficient business enabler. “When you’re required to find a particular mail sent eight months ago, you don’t want to have to put half your in-house IT team on the job. You want to locate the e-mail in a few seconds,” Sanghi points out.

Explains Loh, “E-mail archiving solutions help organisations leverage archived e-mail and content by providing enhanced search, audit, and workflow processes to perform business-specific responsibilities in a simple and efficient manner.”

Having a good e-mail archival system that has well-defined rules and retention policies based on business-value and legal compliance can virtually eradicate the cost of legal discovery if a company was to be audited.

Archiving as an important aspect of e-mail communication should be an important part of a company’s e-mail management strategy. The strategy should define aspects such as bookmarks, the minimum time after which messages should be archived, rules for classification and backup, and retrieval policies.

THE TRADITIONAL WAY

Traditional archiving solutions only store e-mail data and all relevant attachments for retrieval when needed. A basic solution such as this is not sufficient to bring in the business efficiency required by most organisations today.

Tape-based archival is grossly insufficient for e-mail in today's business scenario. A major reason is that the frequency of searches made to older archived mail is much more than that made to other application data

Arun Rao
Head-Storage Solutions
Datacraft India

“The influx of e-mail is exponential to the exposure had by a corporate executive. To maintain the total information lifecycle, a traditional archiving solution is not a safe bet,” states Desai.

The indexing mechanisms of traditional archiving solutions often don’t mesh with the indexing, searching and accessing mechanisms required by e-mail archiving.

“E-mail archiving has to adhere to industry-specific regulations and policies concerning information lifecycle management. If it doesn’t, the legal implications can be severe as Microsoft, Enron, Arthur Andersen and other companies found out,” says Sanghi.

Most organisations today use tape-based archival for the company’s business data, and e-mail. Tape-based archival requires that the archived tape media be located, mounted and then processed for recovery of data and e-mail.

“However, this general approach to archival is grossly insufficient for e-mail in today’s business scenario. A major reason is that the frequency of searches made to older archived mail is much more than that made to other application data, explains Arun Rao, Head-Storage Solutions, Datacraft India.

“Retrieval of information from tape is a slow process which also depends on the priorities of the IT administrator,” he adds.

ARCHIVAL ARCHITECTURE

A typical e-mail architecture fit for business communications needs of an organisation today includes features such as:

  • Unlimited mailbox
  • Faster search and recovery of e-mail messages
  • Accountability as per regulations and policies to comply with the same
  • Single instance of storage for a mail addressed to multiple recipients
  • Faster backups
Typical architecture of an e-mail archival system

The architecture can have two servers. One is the original e-mail server configured with a high performance storage system of less capacity, while the second is the e-mail archive server configured with a high capacity, low performance storage system.

The archive server captures, indexes, compresses, and stores all the incoming and outgoing mail. This allows all mail to be available at the archive server.

As users access the e-mail archival server to look up old mail, it is possible to use low performance, low cost ATA disks configured for the archive server as against expensive fibre channel disks. This flexibility ensures low TCO while the storage capacity of the archive server increases.

See box: Typical architecture of an e-mail system

YOUR E-MAIL TOMORROW

E-mail, used in an organised manner, with the help of an appropriate archival and management strategy customised for an organisation will enable businesses to be more efficient in the near and long run. There will be challenges like spam, and the inability of the current breed of mail applications to provide the desired features. Despite that, this mode of business communication will continue to be the most important means of business communication in the future.

An activity-centric approach to the workplace will help improve productivity by giving people the right capabilities in the context of their role and the business activity they are working on. With this approach, you can organise collaboration around the way the work is being done, rather than around the technologies that are being used to do the work.

soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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