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What is e-mail archiving and management?

This article appears in the issue July/August 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 7]
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You know you have an e-mail management problem, but what kind of problem? Defining the exact nature of your problem can be half the battle to finding a solution.

Technology solutions to e-mail problems related to the production, storage, management, filtering and monitoring of mail have historically gelled around different types of hardware/software products:

  • backup and recovery,
  • e-mail security,
  • active archiving,
  • monitoring,
  • policy management, and
  • e-discovery.

Today the lines between those product segments have blurred. Consequently, we find broad confusion around what constitutes an e-mail management or e-mail archiving and management (EAM) product. Does all e-mail need to be managed? Why can’t you just delete it after 90 days? Do you need to meet regulatory requirements? Or are you looking for some other benefits? Why can’t your Exchange server manage your e-mail? Why isn’t managing your e-mail using your enterprise content management (ECM) system as simple as the storage salesperson said it would be?

Compounding that confusion, EAM vendors have rapidly expanded their feature sets to pursue larger market shares. Many have concentrated on the compliance space, which they believe may be the Holy Grail for EAM. While some vendors have taken a partnership approach—particularly for e-discovery and monitoring—we’re seeing a great deal of convergence, consolidation and overlap in the marketplace. Couple that with vague yet expansive marketing information and you can find it difficult to discern the core capabilities of the various vendor solutions. In reality, the marketing doesn’t reveal a lot of differences between the key players, and despite attempts at consolidation, the market remains highly fragmented.

While each vendor brings strong solutions to key EAM issues, you need to find the ones whose approach, roots and philosophy match yours. It will be years, if ever, before the EAM market has any kind of uniformity. Possibly more than any other market that CMS Watch covers, EAM remains the most distinct and difficult to navigate. "Market leadership" statements mean nothing in EAM.

Most typically you will see products listed and promoted as messaging archiving, e-mail management, or even information storage or records management. While the market has yet to settle on a single descriptor, we have opted for EAM because we believe that people buy such services and systems to have a base archive from which they can draw and manage very large volumes of e-mail throughput and production. The branding and terminology really matter little—what is important is finding a product that fits your needs—but nevertheless EAM gives us a peg to hang our hat on.

What exactly is EAM?

No one really agrees on what EAM is, and the various definitions bandied about don’t really help technology buyers much. Even at the most basic level, all EAM systems do not do the same things.

  • Some focus on removing mail from the e-mail servers.
  • Others specialize in filtering and removing junk or useless mail.
  • Still others concentrate on building and maintaining a copy of the mail environment so that it can be backed up if all else fails.
    EAM paints with a broad brush.

Yet, regardless of the approach, almost every EAM system provides several standard features. That set of core features spans the EAM functional spectrum and includes:

  • managing e-mail over the long term—in some cases many years—but not in the e-mail server,
  • searching and retrieving e-mail regardless of its age or status,
  • identifying and attaching retention policies to e-mail that contains business critical information,
  • configuring e-mail to be compliant if the enterprise faces legal action, and
  • accounting for e-mail across a life cycle that terminates with archiving and/or disposition.

The function-point domains of archiving, backup, monitoring, discovery and policy management still represent distinct solution sets, each with its own business and technical drivers. And even if the technology elements are similar or identical, each buyer’s needs and motivations remain distinctly different.

Of all the markets that CMS Watch analyzes, the EAM market may be experiencing the most turmoil right now.

  • In the past 18 months, industry powers such as Microsoft, Dell, HP and EMC have suddenly and somewhat forcefully embraced EAM.
  • At the same time, many established vendors in the market have replaced their first-generation solutions with new approaches.
  • Finally, the overall market focus may be shifting.

Traditionally the EAM market focused on basic archiving, backup and spam filtering. Today, the combination of rampant e-mail growth, over-stressed message servers and the fear of litigation have pushed the industry into a serious makeover. The larger vendors have broad ambitions to archive all unstructured data within an organization, including instant messages, voice mail, documents residing in applications such as Microsoft’s SharePoint or even reports from enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Buyers, however, have yet to embrace such a broad approach and to date have kept their archiving attentions focused primarily on e-mail. That disparity of visions reflects both the nascent nature of the EAM market and the potential that many see for it.

Archiving/backup vs. e-discovery/compliance

The EAM market evolved from a number of different areas, including backup and disaster recovery, compliance and archiving. As such, the market reflects that variety of concerns and drivers. Yet, we see the EAM space coalescing into essentially a market split into two parts: archiving/backup vs. e-discovery and compliance.

It can be argued that EAM solutions should focus on both of those areas. In reality, most buyers and most vendors focus on one or the other. For example, vendors such as Mimosa Systems have a strong bent toward backup and server/storage optimization. Conversely, Open Text and CA lean more toward enterprise compliance and e-discovery capabilities.

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