In Brief

Resistance, then acceptance of automated e-mail retention; reports of spam’s decline premature

Automating E-mail Retention

Thanks to regulations, best practices, and accountability, companies often find they need to retain some or all of their corporate e-mails. What’s the best way to do it?

That was the question Walden International, venture capital firm, based in San Francisco, asked itself. The firm, which manages over $1.5 billion in such sectors as communications, software, IT services, and semiconductors, “didn't have a retention policy in place,” says Stuart Appley, Walden’s CIO.

So the company decided “to automate a time-based e-mail deletion and retention policy,” driven especially by liability concerns. “Our liability is decreased if we can show that messages are deleted via a policy—versus case by case,” he says.

Initially, Walden tried to adjust its Microsoft Exchange servers—located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and in a Singapore co-location facility to support offices in Asia—to automate e-mail deletion. “There are about 50 mailboxes in the U.S., ranging from 1 to 8 GB in size each, [plus] 20 in Palo Alto, and about 75 in Asia,” says Appley.

Yet “as we dug into the mechanics of it, senior management then wanted to also have the ability to save any e-mail, in a similar folder hierarchy as they have today, for future reference,” he says. That capability is important since Walden’s projects may last for months, if not years. Hence “there is a business need to keep some communication for longer periods of time.” Exchange, however, couldn’t handle this specific task, so Walden began exploring other options.

While the firm evaluated several options—it declines to name them—it eventually settled on Active Folders Content Manager from British software company C2C Systems. Active Folders can enforce a centralized policy for Exchange mailboxes, and also helps recover storage space by identifying redundant attachments.

Benefits from installing the software, says Appley, include “having a consistent retention policy, which not only has helped us reduce our liability, but has enabled us to reduce the size of our mailboxes.”

Initially, however, users were skeptical, as evidenced when the new policy “initially increased our mailbox size, as everyone just copied the e-mails to another folder,” he notes.

After some encouragement from senior management—which helped Active Folders adoption by relaying the problem (mailboxes were too large) it was trying to solve and how employees could help—users are increasingly letting the software automate backup and storage, and not copying every last message into their local Exchange folder.

As a bonus (beyond the benefits of an automatic, corporate-wide policy for retaining e-mail), Apply also notes that “productivity and disaster recovery reliability—from a backup and restore perspective—is being increased also.”

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Analyst: Spam Not Slowing

How much of all e-mail sent is junk mail? “Outsourced anti-spam services such as MessageLabs and MX Logic are currently quoting spam volumes in the 70 percent to 85 percent range,” says Ferris Research analyst Richi Jennings. The volume of spam over the last two years, he notes, has “steadily grown.”

Jennings says some vendors have been implying spam is leveling off. Not so, he says, having recently studied the numbers. While the growth rate of spam may have leveled, “far from slowing down, the volume of spam continues to grow at a fairly consistent rate.”

About the Author

Mathew Schwartz is a Contributing Editor for Enterprise Systems and is its Security Strategies column, as well as being a long-time contributor to the company's print publications. Mr. Schwartz is also a security and technology freelance writer.