Despite IT's best efforts to carefully plan a technology-spending strategy, pain points, not strategy, often drive such spending. To a large extent, user complaints and management fears influence IT budget priorities. The implication of the latest semiannual survey by TheInfoPro, an independent research company, is that email archiving and storage has emerged as the pain point that IT must fix now.

In the study, which consists of in-depth interviews with more than 150 storage professionals at primarily Fortune 1000 companies, email management jumped to the top of what TheInfoPro calls its Heat Index, a metric based on users' adoption plans and the amount of spending directed in specific areas. In a similar survey conducted 6 months ago, email management ranked fifth. Clearly, managing email has climbed way up the priority list.

Several factors have focused end users' and IT pros' attention on the need for better email management. Of course, the sheer volume of email has exploded over the last several years. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. A shockingly high percentage of email is spam and other junk email. Last year, analysts reported that in some months spam accounted for more than 80 percent of all email traffic.

Many end users don't have time to discard all the meaningless or even dangerous email they receive, and neither does anyone else. Consequently, IT can't solve the problem simply by applying typical storage best practices. If companies routinely backed up, then saved all their received email, they'd waste a huge amount of time, money, and storage space doing so. And if retrieving an old email message is like finding a needle in a haystack, saving every email makes the haystack all that much bigger.

Nor can companies simply take a "blunt ax" approach to the problem and put policies in place that force end users to discard old email by, say, limiting the storage space allotted to their accounts. This approach has two significant problems. First, email is the quintessential semistructured data repository. Many people find it efficient to simply save email for long periods of time because of the metadata automatically associated with it--sender, date received, subject line. For occasional correspondence, it's easier for a user to save an email message than add the sender to an address book.

The second issue that impinges on email retention and deletion policies is a regulatory one. Many companies aren't free to determine their own retention policies because such policies are dictated by law.

Not surprisingly, vendors have taken notice of the email-retention problem. Many companies, ranging from IBM and EMC in the enterprise space to a number of lesser-known players such as STORServer offer specific email-archiving solutions. As could be expected, these solutions use different approaches. Some focus on storing email in Microsoft SQL Server databases. Others rely heavily on content-management tools. And still others make significant use of federated search capabilities.

Regardless of the specific approach they use, the solutions are specifically aimed at solving the email problem. But email archiving is only one aspect of a larger issue that's slowly making its way up storage agenda--data and Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). TheInfoPro survey shows that currently information and data lifecycle management are way down the list of advanced storage technology that companies are currently using, ranking 14th and 17th, respectively. But they're at the top of the list of companies' implementation plans through 2006. In fact, the study shows that many companies plan to implement ILM and data lifecycle management solutions next year. Hierarchical storage management solutions, which are related to ILM, will also receive a lot of attention this year and next.

Ultimately, TheInfoPro survey shows that storage professionals are caught in a classic dilemma. When companies implement many point solutions to solve specific problems, they often later face significant data-integrations issues. Does the term "data silos" ring a bell? On the other hand, implementing comprehensive new infrastructures is complex and time-consuming. Moreover, every piece of the puzzle has to work right for the solution to work right.

Ultimately, TheInfoPro survey shows that storage professionals are caught in a classic dilemma. When companies implement many point solutions to solve specific problems, they often later face significant data-integrations issues. Does the term "data silos" ring a bell? On the other hand, implementing comprehensive new infrastructures is complex and time-consuming. Moreover, every piece of the puzzle has to work right for the solution to work right.

At this point, IT administrators seemingly can't wait. They must solve the email problem now and wait until next year to look at implementing a more comprehensive ILM solution.

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