By Yuval Shavit, Features Writer
As companies accumulate more and more unstructured data, the question of where to store it -- and how to retrieve it easily when it's needed -- is increasingly important. Email has been a standard in office communication for years, of course, but with more of those messages containing attachments like PowerPoint slides and images, the amount of disk space email takes is rapidly growing. Meanwhile, regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and new e-discovery rules make it increasingly important not just to store messages, but to be able to retrieve them quickly. It's no surprise, then, that companies are increasingly looking at the benefits of email archiving.
The biggest downside to archiving is that it's expensive. Archives require extra hardware, which is relatively cheap, and software, which is more expensive, said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO in Stillwater, Minn. But more significantly, archiving requires a lot of specialized skills, especially if it's done for compliance or litigation purposes. That makes email archiving a great opportunity for value-added resellers (VARs), Schulz said; if your client is sold on the benefits of email archiving but doesn't have the in-house resources to implement it, email archiving is a solid way to get service dollars on top of product margins.
An archiving project's ultimate cost can vary wildly, depending on factors like project scope or complexity, Schulz said. A low-end system with basic hardware, software and services will cost much less than a compliance-driven project that requires expensive, specialized professional services.
Archiving is similar to data backup, but with a few key differences. While the primary goal of backing up is to restore files after a disaster or disk failure, archiving is all about retaining a specific document along with its metadata, such as when it was created or last modified. Because of this, archiving often involves more sophisticated indexing so that files can be found quickly.
More importantly, backups are generally done with a relatively coarse approach; your client may back up an entire disk, for instance. On the other hand, one of the chief benefits of email archiving is that it lets you find emails as part of regulation compliance or litigation, so your client needs to put more thought up-front into what needs to be saved and how it should be tagged. Those decisions require specific skills and issue-by-issue consulting, so they're a great opportunity for VARs to offer deployment services.
The first big driver for email archiving was compliance and e-discovery rules, Schulz said. Regulations such as SOX and HIPAA require companies not only to store documents and internal communications, but to be able to procure them in an audit. And amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) in late 2006 explicitly stated that electronic documents, including emails, are fair game in a lawsuit's discovery phase, when both sides can request documents from one another to build their cases.
While Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA only apply to specific businesses -- public companies and those in the healthcare industry, respectively -- every company needs to worry about e-discovery. Half of all companies will need to procure email as part of a lawsuit at some point, according to Brian Babineau, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. If a company has more than 20,000 employees, that chance goes up to about 90%, he said. Finding those documents can take months and cost millions of dollars if the company doesn't have a system in place.
There are other, more technology-based benefits of email archiving as well, Schulz said. Because emails are so prevalent and each one is increasingly large on average, keeping all of them on a fast, high-availability disk is expensive -- and the rise of unified communications only adds to companies' storage needs. Running more disks also requires more electricity for power and cooling, which increases costs and detracts from a company's green credentials, Schulz said. Instead of keeping years of emails and instant messages in primary storage, many companies are turning to archiving as a way of storing old messages on cheaper disks, or even remotely.
For VARs, one of the benefits of email archiving is that it connects to many other storage-related services and technologies. For instance, many companies use data deduplication or compression with their archiving to further reduce document footprints. Email archiving also lets you get some recurring revenue by training your client's employees and revisiting its archiving policies.
In the next installment of our Hot Spot Tutorial on archiving, we'll explain the technology behind email archiving and how to deploy it.
This was first published in October 2008