The lowly e-mail message has had a renaissance of sorts. Businesses and their customers now use e-mail for every type of correspondence, including sensitive matters. Analysts suggest that because of this growth in the use of—and importance of—e-mail, it’s more vital than ever for a company to keep track of those business transactions.
“In the last few years, I have seen an exponential increase in business e-mail,” said Chris McNierney, IS manager for Seaboard International Forest Products, Inc., a wholesale lumber company in Nashua, NH.
“E-mail is now the medium of choice for many of our customers and suppliers,” McNierney said.
What that means, McNierney explains, is that critical business information, such as customer credit records and confirmations, is sent and stored primarily as e-mail.
It also introduces yet another systems problem: All this business data needs to be securely filed for quick and easy retrieval. “E-mail packages such as Outlook and Notes are not able to handle this,” McNierney said.
Which is why he did what many of his colleagues are doing and purchased an e-mail archiving system.
The right e-mail archiving solutions
“We went with xVMail,” McNierney said. “We installed it last fall.”
The company that produces xVMail, xVault, Inc., was launched two years ago in Tyson's Corner, VA, in response to the explosive growth in business e-mail, said company president and CEO, Al Sivick.
“E-mail isn’t just about making lunch dates anymore,” Sivick said. “Now it’s things like sales quotes, contracts, and HR documents.”
Jonathan Penn, an analyst with the Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, CA, agrees and says that this fact is changing the way companies are looking at e-mail.
“It wasn’t that long ago that legal counsel used to push corporations to not archive e-mail,” Penn said. “But that has changed. Now most legal advisors tell their clients to archive. Trade confirmations, for example, are often done via e-mail. This is stuff you want to keep.”
In some cases you have to keep it.
“The SEC requires us to keep all e-mail related to a trade,” said Tom Bevilacqua, executive vice president of E*Trade Securities, Inc., in Menlo Park, CA.
In addition, the SEC mandates that the e-mail be stored on tamperproof media for six years. Before he decided to archive, Bevilacqua got by using a variety of media.
“We used magnetic tape, optical discs, even microfilm,” he said. “We kept some of it in large storage lockers.”
One problem with this was the additional SEC requirement that all this e-mail must be promptly reproducible. “[The SEC] doesn’t specify what ‘promptly’ means,” Bevilacqua said. “Twenty-four to 48 hours is usually acceptable, but it was still a big job to keep track of all this data.”
So Bevilacqua started shopping for a better solution last year. He chose a service from Zantaz.com, a Pleasanton, CA-based start-up that archives e-mail for businesses.
“We decided that the most sensible thing was to outsource it,” Bevilacqua said. “We are a customer-centric trading firm. Archiving this kind of data is not our core competency.”
Zantaz’s core business, however, is to do just that. The Zantaz solution is different from xVault’s in-house method in that Zantaz is an application service provider. This means that Zantaz stores your e-mail on its own servers and manages all the details associated with retrieving it and certifying that it has not been opened or otherwise compromised.
It is all done remotely, either over the Internet or, if the customer chooses, a more secure wire such as a dedicated T1 line of a virtual private network.
To find more about the pros and cons of e-mail archival, check out “Are you an e-mail pack rat? Better police that policy.”
In-house or out?
CIOs and other IT professionals will want to consider the pros and cons of outsourcing versus going with an in-house solution, such as xVault’s.
In both cases, there is negligible impact on performance. This is because the actual archiving consists of sending a blind carbon copy of each ingoing and outgoing e-mail message to a separate server.
Both solutions archive not only the e-mail message itself, but all attachments associated with it. With xVMail, the CIO will have an extra NT server to do the initial archiving and, if desired, a CD-ROM juke box for higher volume storage.
“We don’t need the juke box—at least not yet,” said McNierney. “Our needs are modest. We probably have about a gigabyte of data saved so far.”
Both solutions scale to large volumes, but scalability was one reason Bevilacqua went the ASP route. “We are archiving massive amounts of data. We just didn’t like the idea of having to maintain such a monster in-house,” he said.
Another was customer service.
“It will depend on your specific needs, whether or not you choose an ASP to archive,” said Bevilacqua. “But I would advise CIOs and other IT folks to strongly consider the ASP solution if you are, like us, in a service-centric business.”
This is because e-mail often contains most of E*Trade’s customer relationship history. “Our customers demand fast service,” he said. “We can get near-instantaneous search results with the Zantaz system.”
The Zantaz system also offers a deeper level of security. As soon as the message is received at the data center, it is digitally signed and encrypted so it can only be retrieved with the right private key. And retrieval automatically guarantees it hasn’t been altered.
XVault’s security is essentially limited to security that comes with Microsoft NT Server.
The future of archiving
Both Bevilacqua and McNierney contend their systems can be used for more than just storage. McNierney sees potential for better sales and marketing, and Bevilacqua says he is looking at the possibility of using his archiving system to offer E*Trade customers the equivalent of a digital safety deposit box where they can store valuable documents such as wills and tax returns.
Navi Radjou, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, MA, thinks all this and more is possible, creating a virtual resurrection of e-mail.
“E-mail can really become a valuable repository of information,” he said. “You can start to mine some of this information that has been perceived as dead.”
What do you use to archive your e-mail? Post a comment below, or send us an e-mail.