Is it possible to find a lost e-mail?

First, the good news: The only people who need to worry about what comes next are those who use e-mail. Now, the bad part: Except for the few corporate Luddites out there still using snail mail, the rest of you - whether you use Exchange, Notes, Eudora or whatever - may soon be in for a rude awakening.

If, like me, you occasionally blow away a file because of fat fingering, dulled wits or some other equally legitimate reason, there is a good chance you will want the file back. Assuming your IT department is reasonably on the ball, you can often get it. At many sites these days, file recoveries can be done fairly quickly. In some situations, you can even execute the recovery yourself.

But what happens when the deleted file is an e-mail message or a message attachment? Are you sure you can get it back once it is gone? Unless it is still in the Deleted folder, at a disturbingly large number of sites, you can't.

There are two reasons why. First, in many cases e-mail databases only get backed up once a day. If the file you lost came - and went - at any point subsequent to the most recent backup, you are out of luck. No surprise here, of course - just like with any other backed-up data, you can only recover what has been saved.

But can you really recover what has been saved? Unfortunately, in many cases you can't even do that. According to some readers, the genuinely bad news is that when they want to recover a lost message, they find their IT departments are unequipped to provide any useful level of service. Recover a single message? Sorry, we can't do that. At some sites, even an entire mailbox cannot be easily recovered. If you want your lost e-mail back, the only way many IT organizations are equipped to handle your request is to roll back the entire database to the most recent recovery point. This is expensive in terms of time, equipment and IT involvement.

If a CEO needs an e-mail back, no problem. If you do - assuming you are not yet the CEO - the challenge may be enormous.

The problem is one of granularity. In terms of time, the granularity of a backup (the recovery point objective) may at best be an incremental backup or snapshot done every few hours. Just as bad, if all you need is a single message and all the IT group can do is deliver a rollback of the entire Exchange database, when it comes to content, there may be no granularity at all.

Think this is an unbelievable scenario? Try it out at your own site. Send yourself an e-mail. Delete it. Then see what kind of recovery service your e-mail administrator can give you.

This sort of exercise offers useful insight in to just what sort of recovery time and recovery point objectives your company provides.

Many of us must face up to the unpleasant fact that most solutions that protect corporate e-mail simply can't do the job well. Fortunately, there is hope. Corporate e-mail is probably the best example of why we need continuous data protection (CDP).

What is CDP, and what does it offer the e-mail administrator? Tune in next time.

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