Execs value e-mail over all other data

E-mail is the most valued business document, according to a recent survey from Kroll Ontrack Inc.

Kroll asked 200 business executives across Canada, the U.S. and Europe which business documents they would most prefer to recover in the event of data loss. Eighty one per cent reported they would save their mailboxes.

E-mail is of critical importance because it contains so much information, said Dave Pearson, senior storage research analyst with IDC Canada.

“Test contracts to vendors or clients, confidential memos … all sorts of work documents, process documents, presentations, sales materials, all those things pass through your e-mail at different times,” he said.

Large organizations, especially those subject to lawsuits, should have a centralized backup repository for their e-mail, Pearson suggested. “It just makes the discovery process so much easier and so much less expensive for them,” he said.

But many companies still lack a well-thought-out e-mail archival policy. “A lot of companies may not realize how much of their business is contained in their e-mail or how many confidential or important things are said in e-mail that they need to keep track of,” said Pearson.

Backing up e-mail is a high priority in the enterprise and a vital practice for IT, according to George Goodall, senior research analyst at London-based Info-Tech Research Group Inc.

E-mail is very much the lifeblood of any organization, he said. “Many people, especially executives, use e-mail as a knowledge repository … the problem is, it’s a very difficult thing to backup and more importantly, it’s difficult to restore.”

“The big concern is the way e-mail generally works,” said Goodall. “It’s one big database of information that we are backing up, so it becomes very difficult to restore a single e-mail, which is a common issue.”

E-mail also requires a large volume of storage space. “We end up with so much information, literally bits and bites in our e-mail archives, because of attachments,” he said.

An e-mail archiving system, which sets up an archive between the e-mail server and the storage tier, is one solution to the problem, according to Goodall. This improves the overall efficiency of an e-mail system and reduces the burden on IT by making it easier to backup, restore, find deleted messages and perform e-discovery, he said.

Tracking, auditing and finding e-mail messages isn’t just about meeting business expectations or catering to the wants of executives, he added. It’s also an expectation of investors and the courts.

Inept e-mail management can lead to legal disasters, according to Goodall, who pointed to Coleman Holdings Inc. versus Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. and the Zubulake Case as two instrumental examples.

If you are sued and the litigator wants to see an e-mail message on a particulate topic by a particular individual between certain dates, it could be difficult to find if the e-mail is stored in a PST file or on local archives, he said. And being unable to locate that e-mail is “a recipe for contempt of court.”

Info-Tech has observed a rise in e-mail archiving systems over the last four years, which may reflect changes made to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in late 2006, according to Goodall.

“Our American cousins are considerably more litigious than we are in Canada, but what we are seeing in Ontario is a trend towards this more American-style treatment of litigation,” he said.

E-mail might be a part of an enterprise backup strategy, but there are several things that could go wrong, according to John Riddell, operations manager of Ontrack Data Recovery Canada.

“E-mail is probably the first item that’s asked to be recovered when we get something in because those backups aren’t done or if the backup is there, it hasn’t been verified,” he said.

One problem is the tendency for employees to back up e-mail archives on their local drives rather than the network. This is often a response to IT placing a cap on their mailbox, which is intended to limit the growth of e-mail archives, Riddell explained.

When employees reach the cap, they are required to make a backup in order to create more space on their mailbox, he said. To get around this, they save and export a PST file from Exchange or Outlook to their local machine.

But if the local drive crashes, the backup disappears along with it, he pointed out. “Backing up on the same drive, you’re not doing anything better than keeping your mailbox full,” he said.

Educating employees on e-mail management practices is key, according to Riddell. This includes keeping mailbox sizes down by deleting messages they don’t need, ensuring recycling bins are empty and saving backups to the network.

“Some executives know the bare minimum or the basics on how to use a computer, so a little education there on the user’s end is probably best,” he said.

E-mail backups should be a combination of personal and general corporate IT responsibility, according to Ronald Gruia, principal telecom analyst at Frost & Sullivan Ltd.

Gruia suggested employees keep a regular local backup in addition to a backup copy on the network. If the company backs up their server only once a week, you could lose some e-mail messages, he pointed out.

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