Special delivery

As any e-mail administrator will tell you, managing the content of the constant flood of incoming and outgoing messages is only half the battle. The sheer volume of e-mail, coupled with the increasing size of files that users want to send, also puts a staggering load on the network and servers. At the same time, end users are resisting attempts to limit the size of their in-boxes, demanding the right to stash gigabytes of mail and attachments on the server. IT clearly needs a strategy to manage the e-mail flood.

The first step is deploying a good e-mail monitoring and reporting tool, advises Scott Bueffel, messaging administrator at Con-way, a US$3.7 billion provider of global supply chain services. He persuaded management to let him buy Quest Software's Spotlight on Exchange and MessageStats reporting and monitoring tools when e-mail performance problems kept cropping up and he couldn't pinpoint the problem with his existing tools.

"In the past, if we had a lot of message traffic on a particular day and management wanted to know where it was coming from and why, I'd have to say, 'I can't tell you. I don't have the tools to identify it,' " says Bueffel, noting that native message-tracking utilities are only useful for diagnosing problems with a single e-mail.

Spotlight monitors e-mail services and provides information on things such as available storage and the size of the routing queue. MessageStats enables Bueffel to run reports on a range of usage statistics.

"We use it for all manner of reporting, based on traffic, volume, growth, forecasting," says Bueffel.

According The Radicati Group, the average corporate e-mail user sends and receives a total of 133 messages, or about 16.4MB of data, per day. IDC estimates that the size of business e-mail sent annually worldwide will exceed 3.5 exabytes (3.5 billion gigabytes) this year, double the amount of two years ago.

The need for organizations to implement e-mail management software -- specifically, monitoring, reporting and archiving tools -- will become more urgent, say experts, as the volume of mail puts greater stress on storage and bandwidth resources.

"The growth in e-mail has been steady and huge, to the point that everybody is having major storage and performance problems," says David Via, an analyst at Ferris Research in San Francisco.

And because users rely so heavily on their e-mail these days, they tend not to tolerate delays in message delivery. "People expect the messages to go from here to there in a matter of seconds. They don't care how many messages, or what the architecture is like," says Bueffel. "They just expect that when they click Send, it should be there."

Monitoring for bottlenecks

Although e-mail servers such as Exchange come equipped with utilities, they often can't provide the depth or breadth of information that e-mail managers need in order to diagnose -- and anticipate -- problems.

"Using the native message tracking [in Exchange], I could see where some of the e-mail was going, but I wasn't able to isolate where it was coming from," says Bueffel. "We needed a more general reporting tool."

Henry Yiin, manager of systems engineering at IXIS Capital Markets North America in New York, relies on Network Physics' NP-2000 appliance to monitor traffic volume across the network and to and from the Exchange server. That has helped him pinpoint the source of problems -- whether it's the network, Exchange or some other application -- fairly rapidly.

But monitoring e-mail storage has been more of a challenge. Yiin is using a homegrown Perl script to check storage levels on the Exchange server and associated SAN devices every 10 minutes. The Exchange server can, however, suddenly outstrip its available disk space and crash. "If storage gets to 99% capacity, the residing data stores shut down. That can happen in just a couple of minutes," Yiin says.

Since having the Perl script run more frequently would consume too much CPU time, Yiin is looking for a commercial e-mail monitoring and reporting tool to replace it. "We want both real-time monitoring of the SAN status and good reporting," he says.

Sara Radicati, CEO of The Radicati Group, says she believes the market is ripe for better tools to configure, monitor and plan e-mail systems. "That whole area has a lot of growth potential ahead," she says. "People need a lot of intelligence on performance, capacity planning, pinpointing potential problems before they occur."

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