You Have Mail... Way Too Much!
E-mail management is a critical mission that consumes many hours each week for an already busy I.T. administrator: Fighting spam. Recovering old messages. Securing the server. Indeed, the job is never done and the challenge is only getting worse.
According to the Radicati Group's recent E-mail Archiving Market Research Report, the average corporate e-mail user processes about 18 MB of every day, and, that number is expected to climb to 28 MB a day by 2011. While e-mail servers can handle large volumes of messages, storing so much data can be quite the challenge.
The problem has led to "purge policies" that demand old e-mails be deleted, but end users often find mailbox size restrictions quite limiting. Many of these solutions are far from ideal. Not only do they add another burden to the I.T. admin's back, they can also add more fees to the corporate budget. To complicate matters even further, today's I.T. administrators also need to ensure that their e-mail storage solutions are keeping their company in compliance with government regulations.
"Our research shows that storage is the number one messaging-management problem," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, a firm that focuses on the messaging market. "Organizations are experiencing plenty of pain in controlling messaging due to the growth of message volume and the increasing size of attachments. Companies are looking for new approaches."
Outsourcing the Function
Using an outside firm to manage your company's messaging systems is one option. Osterman estimates the number of hosted-messaging seats in North America at 1 million, while the Radicati Group forecasts that the worldwide market for hosted business e-mail services will grow from $626 million in 2006 to over $1 billion in 2010. There are plenty of reasons why more and more companies are using hosting and outsourcing services to manage their e-mail systems, said Sudeep Trivedi, director of product development at AT&T's USinternetworking (USi).
"E-mail has become the most difficult system to manage. Outlook is easy to use, but behind the scenes, messaging is a complex environment," Trivedi said. His perspective on the problem comes from his work at USi, which specializes in managing enterprise software and e-mail services available from companies like Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel, Microsoft, IBM, and Ariba.
"The time has come for CIOs and organizations to seriously start thinking about offloading some of these duties to a third-party provider so they can concentrate on things that are really important to them," Trivedi said. Hosted messaging saves cost, he said, because the organization is not investing in hardware or message management. I.T. administrators are also freed from dealing with spam, antivirus engines and denial-of-service attacks on the e-mail servers -- all costly propositions.
The Social Solution
Beyond the drain on I.T. administrators' time, the growing volumes of e-mail messages also hamper end-user productivity. Researchers at Gartner estimate that business users spend about two hours per day managing their mailboxes, while data from Ferris Research shows that 66 percent of users are forced to work around maximum file-size restrictions on e-mail messages.
One potential solution to help solve the problem of e-mail storage is being offered by IBM in the form of a "social software" product called Lotus Connections. The Lotus Connections platform consists of five components for managing activities, communities, profiles, blogs, and "dogear" -- IBM's lingo for bookmarking Web pages and sharing those bookmarks with friends or associates. The "activities" tab lets employees park documents, presentations and other collaborative content in a shared space.
"We are trying to get out in front of this ongoing trend for e-mail inboxes to grow and grow and grow by reducing the e-mail people are sending," said Penny Scharfman, program director for Lotus Notes and Domino Products. "We're doing that by providing strong tools to help manage and store documents in a smart way. This solution [Lotus Connections] stops the attachments from coming into your mailbox in the first place."
The Archiving Route
Another solution to the messaging madness involves archiving systems that take the content off the mail server and store it on lower-cost alternatives. This option relies on a technique called "stubbing" wherein if a user gets a message that exceeds a predefined limit, say 100 MB, or if the user exceeds 80 percent of his or her allowable quota for e-mail, the content is automatically removed from the mail server and put into storage.
The messages are then replaced with a stub -- a link back to the archived message -- in the user's mailbox. If the user clicks on the stub, it pulls the content out of the archives and displays it on the screen. By some industry estimates, this technique can reduce the volume of I.T. server storage by as much as 80 percent without limiting user access to old messages.
According to Osterman, archiving systems offer several advantages. First, archival storage is less expensive than live storage. Second, if the e-mail server goes down, it takes much less time to restore the e-mail if most of the messages do not reside on that server. Otherwise, he noted, users could go a day or two without e-mail access as the I.T. admin works feverishly to restore hundreds of gigabytes of data.
With this type of system in place, Osterman said he thinks, "Users will stop complaining about quotas."
"It's not likely that the individual user will ever reach a 100MB quota with stubbing, even though [that user] may have tens of gigabytes of data in the archive," he said. Osterman pointed out that archiving has traditionally been used for purposes of regulatory compliance or electronic discovery, and is now being adopted more widely in the mainstream as a storage management tool.
An End-All Solution?
For all the solutions that are vying for dominance in the hearts of CIOs, analysts say none of them are end-all solutions. Messaging management, like other aspects of technology, will continue to evolve. It does seem though that a tiered approach to archival storage that incorporates spinning discs and optical storage could further reduce messaging costs.
"As your storage requirements grow, you can actually drive the cost down a little bit by going to different subsystems," Osterman said. For example, he suggested, if data is a year old, you may need it for an e-discovery case but it's unlikely that users are going to need frequent access to it. Instead of keeping such data on expensive drives, he advised, "You can store it on lower-cost, less readily-accessible media."
While none of these solutions provides the silver-bullet solution that businesses may want, a combination of strategies can offer at least some relief when users are hearing, "You've got mail... and it's way too much!"