No adequate answer to email risk: META Group

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Litigation risks associated with business email use have outstripped the technologies available to counter them, speakers at a recent government briefing on email management suggested.

Industry analyst META Group and storage vendors EMC and Legato Systems gave a June seminar to the Victorian and NSW governments, examining the growing need to balance increased employee email use, the resultant burgeoning of network storage requirements, and the trend for litigation based on email evidence.

John Brand, vice-president of technology research services at META Group, spoke to iTnews after the briefing. Brand argued that although many IT-based offerings existed to help companies manage their email storage needs--and thus the litigation risks presented by providing company email to employees--most were geared to addressing only a part of the issue, or had a limited lifespan when risky emails really needed to be retrievable on demand for five to seven years.

Further, Brand said many market offerings were too expensive and complex for SMBs, meaning that the only clear path for many Australian companies was to better educate their staff about the legal risks presented by email use.

“Anything you can write can and will be used against you,” he said. “We estimate that somewhere in the order of seven to 12 percent of companies [in the Asia-Pacific region including Australia] have been or are certainly involved in a request for email-based information in regards to litigation.”

Companies kept mum because if people found out an organisation had no ability to recover information held on email then they could use that against them, for example by laying fraudulent charges. “It's like a sexually transmitted disease. There's a hell of a lot more out there than anyone is talking about,” Brand said.

The only answer for resellers trying to assist their customers was to identify which part of the issue held the greatest risk, perhaps by vertical, and tailor a package accordingly, Brand said. No one offering or type of technology yet provided an adequate response to the problem.

For that reason, the email-storage-litigation problem played into the hands of system integrators who mostly worked closely with larger clients to produce a customised package incorporating several products, he said. “But it's not an easy road, because there are so many offerings out there...the large consulting companies are going to do well out of this,” Brand said.

Gerry Lahiffe, channel manager for Australia and New Zealand at Legato Systems, said that policy-based email archiving could be part of the answer for many companies concerned about the increasing costs of having to store emails for years in case they need to provide email-based evidence to defend a lawsuit. “Look at...the recent case where Queensland magistrates are having to spend a year in gaol because of email communication,” he said. “Financial institutions [for example] have had to pay out as much as $US1.6 million because they didn't have a way to find emails created in the organisation that had a bearing on a lawsuit.”

Lahiffe said the average email server was saturated within 18 days, with system administrators often spending eight to 12 hours each week on email backup and archiving.

Yet, despite all the archiving going on, most users could not access archived email themselves, although they each spent 2.5 hours a day managing their inboxes. Policy-based email archiving structures content storage, using set policies based on importance, date and so on to squash archived email into a smaller space and make it easier to recover, he said.

“Fixed content has often been put in the most expensive storage that we have – RAID 1 to RAID 5 type--but if you don't need access after seven days you should put it somewhere else to claw back total storage costs,” he said. Lahiffe pointed out that META Group last year estimated that storage needs take 13 percent of company IT budgets and the figure is tipped to increase to 17 percent in a few more years, following a 'business as usual' scenario.

Some 80 percent of the terabytes of data every company is legally required to archive is not accessed or altered after 60 days, so substantial cost savings could potentially be achieved with the right storage product, he said. Lahiffe, of course, recommends a Legato product as a step in the right direction.

Legato's XtenderSolutions for Storage work with EMC's Centera content-addressed storage (CAS) system to create more storage space within a network and easily recoverable archiving. XtenderSolutions enable shortcuts to be created that help users to retrieve archived email without sysadmin help, he claimed.

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