CDP goes a long way to protecting e-mail messages

* Why you should take note of continuous data protection

What is continuous data protection (CDP), and why should e-mail admins look into it?

CDP is a relatively new technology so definitions vary somewhat, but the key points are that the CDP software is aware of all changes in data as the changes occur and it saves both the changed data and the metadata describing the change (a timestamp and pointers to where the changed data is located). It also enables users to recover literally from any point where a change has been made.

What is the difference between CDP and a snapshot? Snapshots capture changed data at regularly occurring intervals, on a defined schedule. With a CDP approach, each change is recorded at the time it occurs.

The purpose of CDP is to provide the best levels of granularity possible, which means being able to recover even the smallest quantity of changed data, even when that change occurred only a few seconds ago.

E-mail messages that arrive and are then erroneously discarded soon after their arrival run the risk of being lost forever, assuming in the worst-case scenario that the "Deleted" folder has been emptied.  At best, this can result in serious interruption of your workflow, leading to all sorts of expense. At worse, people can go to jail if the lost data falls within the regulatory demands of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the like.

Lots of new CDP software is becoming available from vendors, and some of it is aimed specifically at providing protection to e-mail applications. An e-mail administrator would be foolish not to be aware of this trend.

When considering a CDP solution for e-mail, here are some things to look for:

* Recoveries should happen much more quickly than you are used to. CDP solutions back up data to disks (most likely, SATA), and recovery time objectives should be in seconds rather than hours.

* Make sure the new solution will coexist with the e-mail software you already have in-house. Your IT team is likely to come up to speed more quickly if the software doesn't require changes to existing policies.

* Can users do the recoveries themselves? The more advanced CDP implementations require little or no IT intervention and will place no drain at all on your helpdesk team.

* All solutions will include backup and archiving. A few will also offer a complete business continuity package, including remote replication for disaster recovery.

* There is no reason why regulatory compliance solutions can't be a part of a package like this. Find out whether the vendor you are speaking with offers a module for HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) 3010, or whichever regulations answer your company's needs. Managing compliance and data protection from a single console (and storing all e-mail data and metadata in a single data repository) would be much easier than any alternative.

* Make sure whatever solution you consider will play nicely with Microsoft's new Data Protection Manager (DPM), the disk-to-disk back-up application scheduled to arrive from Microsoft by year-end. Find out if your vendor has thought this issue through.

Obviously, if the new software can also do away with the need to save multiple instances of an object (sent out 300 e-mails with an attachment to your coworkers? Exchange has saved 300 copies of the attachment!), that would be a very good thing indeed. It is easy to see how saving a single instance of an attachment sent out to multiple recipients at your site will save you all kinds of hardware investment down the road. Also, because single-instancing will reduce the size of your Exchange store, you can expect improved storage manageability, reliability and overall Exchange performance. 

Application-versant CDP can be a great boon to protecting e-mail messages. IT managers in general, and e-mail admins in particular, would be silly not to look at this new technology.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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