IM is the biggest, most overlooked threat

Messaging guru Michael Osterman discusses the overlooked IM threat, the best low-cost archiving solutions and how social networking affects the enterprise in this chat transcript.

Moderator-Linda: Welcome and thank you for coming. Our guest today is Michael Osterman. Also watch for upcoming chats with CTO Werner Vogels (October 1) and national IT recruiter Matt Colarusso (October 9). If you have requests for other guests for chats, please send an e-mail to Now, onto the chat.

Michael_Osterman: Hello, everyone! It's a pleasure to be here today.

Chris4742: What's the biggest threat today in the messaging space?

Michael_Osterman: It really depends on where an organization is with regard to how well it is protecting its infrastructure. For example, newer types of spam, such as PDF spam or Excel spam can represent significant threats for orgs that have not done enough to protect against them. Viruses continue to pose a serious threat, but not so much for orgs that have multi-layered defenses. IM is probably the most underrated threat at this point because not enough orgs have deployed systems to protect against unfettered consumer IM use.

JeffCaruso: So, are consumer IM systems really the security threat to corporations we always hear about? Any IM-delivered viruses actually infiltrating companies?

Michael_Osterman: They are definitely are. Akonix, FaceTime and others have reported significant increases in the number of IM-borne threats so far this year.

lurker: But are you actually hearing from any big IT shops about IM viruses being a big deal?

Michael_Osterman: Most orgs tells us in our surveys that they have not been the victim of an IM borne virus, worm, etc. However, most of these threats are very quiet, capturing data, etc., and so I think the problem is probably underreported since not enough IT managers are focusing on it.

serverguy: What kinds of products are out there that can stop IM security messages from infecting the enterprise?

Michael_Osterman: There are a variety of server-side capabilities that can manage IM traffic, filtering out threats, URLs, preventing file transfer capabilities, etc. Many organizations try to block IM, but that's not an effective strategy for preventing the threats. IM content really has to be managed as its own entity.

Western5041: I keep hearing that newer workers are more apt to use instant messaging or SMS texting rather than e-mail. Are the days of e-mail numbered?

Michael_Osterman: I don't think so. IM is a great tool, but it is used primarily for its presence capability -- most IM conversations end in a phone call, for example. There are times when you want to transmit information but don't care about the current presence of the recipient, so e-mail will still be a great tool for those applications. Ultimately, we see a gradation of communications, in which people have a single contact point, such as an e-mail address. Recipients will then use directory-based rules to define how they want to receive communications -- via e-mail, IM, voice, on their mobile device, etc. Senders won't have to worry about which medium to chose -- they will simply send a message and it will be received via the medium the recipient has chosen.

serverguy: What about mobile phones and viruses. Do I have to worry about an iPhone message infecting the network, and if I do, is there anyway to stop it?

Michael_Osterman: I think that's a valid worry, especially if a single platform represents the majority of users in an organization. The iPhone problem at Duke University, for example, is a good case in point. There are mobile messaging server products that can defend against the spread of viruses, threats, etc.

Western5041: Have there been any mobile devices that you've seen recently that do a good job of handling messaging, either e-mail or IM?

Michael_Osterman: I use a Motorola Q and am generally pleased with it for e-mail, although less so for voice. The T-Mobile Dash is probably a better device, since it also supports WiFi, but I have not played with it as much. I don't use BlackBerry or iPhone, although both have strong adherents.

Moderator-Linda: Pre-submitted question: What is the deal with Unified Communications? Isn't it the same old "universal inbox" that we've been hearing about for years? Why should I take it seriously this time around?

Michael_Osterman: Yes and no. Yes, it’s a universal inbox that incorporates e-mail, voice-mail, fax, etc. in the inbox, but no, the products are more advanced today than in the past. Microsoft, IBM, Avaya, Cisco, and many, many other companies are delivering robust solutions that can make users more productive and allow them to be more mobile/remote than ever before.

serverguy: Will hosted messaging services like Google's really be a serious alternative for the enterprise?

Michael_Osterman: I think hosted messaging is a good alternative for many orgs, including some very large ones. However, the cost advantage of hosting really is greatest for smaller orgs. That said, I think we'll see alot of companies use a hybrid approach -- something like an on-premise solution for a headquarters and a hosted solution for satellite offices. Real estate companies, retail establishments, etc. would be a great candidate for a hybrid approach.

Chris4742: Have enterprises gotten at all more comfortable with hosted messaging offerings?

Michael_Osterman: They are getting more comfortable over time. Resistance to the security and cost concerns are still there, but softening over time. However, I spoke at a conference last week where there was still a sentiment of distrust about allowing corporate data outside the org.

serverguy: What's the latest research show about cost control? Seems like messaging, storage, archiving, etc., gets more expensive every year. Got any tips for reducing cost?

Michael_Osterman: There are a variety of things that can be done to control costs. Hosted messaging works well for smaller orgs, particularly when they evaluate the complete cost of providing messaging services. Appliance-based solutions can also be more cost effective than on-premise software. It's important to note that labor represents about 2/3 of the cost of managing a messaging system, so anything that can be done to reduce IT involvement in the messaging management process the better.

southside: What can you recommend for a large enterprise >20k users for spam and antivirus. Is an appliance solution viable?

Michael_Osterman: Yes, appliances would defintely be viable. There are appliances from a variety of companies that provide excellent performance for large environments, including from vendors like Secure Computing, IronPort, Tumbleweed and many others.

Moderator-Linda: Pre-submitted question: I hear a lot about Twitter, Facebook and other social networking schemes that create security risks and a whole lot of messaging traffic. How will Web 2.0 affect enterprise e-mail and what should I be doing about that?

Michael_Osterman: I believe that Web 2.0 can actually reduce e-mail traffic by making collaboration tools a central repository of corporate content that will actually require fewer e-mails sent to project participants, members of a group, etc. Security risks will still be a key concern, requiring the deployment of enterprise-grade tools rather than those that are focused on consumers, as is the case today.

Western5041: I don't understand Twitter -- why is that the big thing in Web 2.0 these days?

Michael_Osterman: It's certainly a big deal in the consumer space, but its somewhat unstructure nature makes it less valuable as a business tool. That said, Twitter is a 'live' application, and so has an appeal in that regard.

Western5041: So no 'enterprise' Twitter then? :-)

Michael_Osterman: I think there's a place for it, particularly on project teams where lots of real time or near real time info is exchanged. A legal team, product development team approach a launch, etc. could make very good use of something like, particularly for keeping mobile users in the loop.

serverguy: If Twitter won't be a big deal for business, are there other Web 2.0 sites that do have business value? Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, something else? and why?

Michael_Osterman: I think that wikis, such as Socialtext, can be very useful as a replacement for some types of e-mail. If communications between group members can be consolidated into a single interface, it can be more efficient to communicate via a wiki than with e-mail. It also allows new people to be brought up to speed more quickly, while reducing e-mail traffic with lots of replies flying back and forth between group members.

RobertK: Should the same people who manage the messaging infrastructure also be the ones to handle the new Web 2.0 collaboration tools, or should it be a different group?

Michael_Osterman: Hard to say, since it depends alot on the corporate culture of the organization, the size of the organization, etc. I would probably recommend, however, that messaging and Web 2.0 should be viewed as part of a migration of messaging functionality, and so the same people should probably be involved at some level.

SpeedRacer: What collaboration suite do you consider the most complete for an enterprise (e-mail, calendaring, resource reservation, IM, video conferencing, workgroup collaboration, etc.)? Do you suscribe to a single suite or seperate best-of-breed applications?

Michael_Osterman: Personally, I use Entourage, Outlook, Outlook Web Access and Windows Mobile. I like Exchange and Outloook, but Notes/Domino and GroupWise also offer very good solutions. There are also a variety of 'second-tier' players, such as Zimbra, Gordano, CommuniGate, etc. that offer very nice environments.

Western5041: How can I move my staff away from e-mail and into a more collaborative application? What steps can I take to get them more interested?

Michael_Osterman: I think it depends to some extent on the corporate culture of the enterprise and the extent to which people can be motivated to share information and resources. In orgs where controlling the flow of information represents a personal value to information stakeholders, collaboration will be more difficult, for example. However, deplolying pilots of tools like wikis, IM, Web conferencing and educating users on their benefits as a way of replacing some e-mail traffic can go a long way toward making people more comfortable with these tools.

Moderator-Linda: Pre-submitted question: I've got to implement some messaging archiving to help our legal department with their e-mail discovery requirements. Where do I begin and what advice have you got for me?

Michael_Osterman: First and foremost, establish internal policies for retaining and deleting e-mail based on the advice of legal counsel, external experts, etc. Second, look at your archiving requirements in terms of storage requirements. Then, select a solution (on-premise software/servers, appliance or hosted service) that makes sense based on your organization’s data volume, geographic distribution of your employees, budget, etc.

southside: What do you recommend for large enterprises for an e-mail archive solution where archiving is the driver not e-discovery.

Michael_Osterman: The key is to first establish policies around archiving -- what data will be retained, for how long, when it will be deleted, etc. This needs to be driven from internal legal counsel, business requirements, etc. Next, pick a solution that will allow automatic transfer of data into the archive without user intervention. This will free users from the burden of having to identify what is a business record, what is not, etc. I would also keep e-discovery in the back of my mind, however, since an archiving solution that can have an e-discovery module added later on can be very useful.

serverguy: Are there any open source e-mail archiving/management apps that are worth looking at? Or low-cost commercial ones?

Michael_Osterman: With regard to your second question, there are several good alternatives, such as those from ArcMail, Intradyn and many other companies. Hosted archiving solutions are also a fairly low cost method of implementing archiving with virtually no capital expenditure up front. I am not familiar with open source archiving solutions.

southside: Is archving the silver bullet for e-mail management and control. How do you politically set up mailbox limits when they don't exist in a large org?

Michael_Osterman: It's certainly a copper bullet, if not a silver one! The nice thing about an appropriately configured archiving system is that it can do away with mailbox limits by automatically moving content from live storage to archival storage when, say, a mailbox reaches 80% of its quota. This allows IT to continue to impose quotas, but users have what looks to them like a mailbox of infinite size.

MattWilson: What companies are doing the best in archiving at the moment? Message vendors or storage vendors, or someone else?

Michael_Osterman: I think it's a combination of the two. Certainly the biggest player is Symantec with Enterprise Vault, although others are doing very well also. Doing the best job at archiving is difficult to determine, however, since it depends on an org's needs for archiving: regulatory compliance, e-discovery, storage management, knowledge management, disaster recovery, etc.

southside: Is SharePoint a good solution to use to help with the e-mail document storage problem?

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