Is storage archiving child's play?

* What to do about e-mail clutter

My daughter Nina has always taken exception to the taunting "neener-neener-neener" chant that little children level at one another when they are feeling obstreperous, so I stopped doing it to her two years ago. I certainly hope that her friends at Johns Hopkins have stopped doing it as well. If not... well, I am sure that somehow it will all turn out to be my fault.

Unfortunately, as my friend NC points out, the goading "neener-neener-neener" annoyance pretty much sums up the kind of automated messages we get from our systems when we overstep quotas or commit some other equally unspeakable act of inadvertent e-mail sabotage. When you think about just how important a role e-mail plays in our typical workday, we can all be forgiven if such distractions somehow seem to be more-than-minor irritations.

Whatever the reason for these messages - quota violations are certainly the ones that end users see most frequently, but admins get a whole list of them. The fact is that end-users probably should see none of them, after all, we use e-mail to transact business or social correspondence, and not because we want to administer e-mail. Thus, I submit that no user should ever receive an e-mail message from an admin unless it is a warning about a system problem. And quota violations are only a problem because e-mail systems are designed so badly. Which brings us to today's problem: electronic archiving.

Most e-mail clutter occurs because we treat e-mail systems like they are files on our personal PCs. We store whatever comes to us, attachments and all, and in most cases that is where things rest - lots of files, spread higgledy-piggledy across some unseen server, filling up our allotted e-mail quota. Once we put our old mail in a physical filing cabinet, and likely didn't clean out the files until we moved on to a new job; today, e-mail either stays where we leave it or, some cases, moves to an electronic archive. 

There are lots of ways to move e-mails into that archive. Some are manual, some are automatic.  Automatic means less management, which in turn means lower costs. Much of the time things happen manually.

If archiving were done well it would also mean that you wouldn't have to worry about those annoying mailbox "limit exceeded" messages ("Dear user: YOU'VE BEEN BAD.  Neener-Neener-Neener.")  But it is not, and we do.

Even in cases where e-mail is archived automatically, what happens if a user wants to extract something from the archive? Ask yourself three things, all of which directly impact either IT productivity or the business productivity of your end users: Do you archive automatically? When your users want to get something back from the archive, is it easily done? Is it ... wait for it ... transparent?

(Note that I've been kind enough not to ask about how you archive and protect the archives of the 10,000 PST files residing on desktop machines across your enterprise. Discuss this among yourselves, however.)

Beyond the loss in user productivity and the cost of managing and storing e-mails, corporations have a stake in finding e-mails and their attachments quickly, too. Just ask any company that's been involved in a lawsuit, or has a CIO that stays up at night worrying about compliance issues. 

Next time, a few solutions.

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