Minding the messaging store

Last summer, an intern at Hewitt Associates scanned the logs on the company's Domino servers at its headquarters in Lincolnshire, Ill. He looked to see who, if anyone, used each application and database that is replicated between servers. It took all summer to manually check the logs and delete unused items from the servers. The result: 63GB of storage space was freed up in the company's messaging database. This summer, the intern will be doing other things.

Since September, the outsourcing and consulting firm has been using analysis software from Wellesley, Mass.-based DYS Analytics Inc. It automatically monitors which messaging and collaboration applications and how much of the 21TB of data associated with them are being used on each of Hewitt's 180 Domino, Notes and QuickPlace servers in 80 offices in 37 countries. Notes and Domino are the principal groupware products from IBM Corp. subsidiary Lotus Software Group in Cambridge, Mass.

Regardless of whether the platform is Notes or Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange, e-mail and related collaborative applications such as instant messaging and Web meeting software are the primary medium for many business transactions. The problem is that the massive number of files produced by these applications eats up both bandwidth and storage. Without some kind of help, end users can't access information and companies can't meet legal requirements to save certain documents.

"It's important to evaluate your environment to find a tool that fits, instead of designing a process around a tool," says Mark Brooks, network project leader at Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF). "You have to define your process first; then you can go look for a tool."

One way TIAA-CREF is cleaning up traffic is by requiring users to send links instead of attachments in their messages, Brooks says. Building the technology to support the process isn't the biggest hurdle; it's changing user behavior, he says. It also helps to be clear about the primary reasons for cleaning up message traffic.

Save Space, Save Money

Many companies are cleaning up their messaging stores to meet cost-cutting demands. At Hewitt, software automatically analyzes the same data that took an employee hours to process manually, says Scott Pitts, manager of the knowledge management group at Hewitt. Pitts says he will use the analysis from DYS to prepare his budget for next year.

The company chose Control e-mail, replication and application software from DYS to help it better use its existing equipment. Now the CIO, messaging manager and security manager at Hewitt can view the reports using the Control product.

Also, Pitts can set in-box limits based on traffic norms, and Control can check for improper use. For example, Pitts found that one of the top 10 domains to which Hewitt employees sent e-mails was that of a competitor. After investigating, he learned that the competitor is also one of the firm's largest partners, so the traffic is likely legitimate, Pitts says. But now he has an idea of what's leaving the company.

Statistics on replication or the synchronization of documents and databases between the server and the client application are displayed on a company portal designed by DYS, within 24 hours of any replication. Control's e-mail suite can track the number of e-mails that go to a given domain or identify a user who chronically sends large messages. It doesn't scan for content. The IT staff can then adjust their systems accordingly.

If a server in Japan is replicating a database every night but traffic analysis shows that no one has accessed it for the past five months, an administrator can erase the database from that server and save space. Or, if an end user is doing a lot of e-mail replicating late at night, an administrator might ask why.

Pitts says he's already saving time and money by moving collaborative applications off servers where they're never used. "The old saying was 'Disk is cheap.' " he says. "Well, it's really not that cheap."

KeyBank NA monitors replication traffic on Notes and Domino systems with IntelliWatch software from Candle Corp. in El Segundo, Calif., says Robert Rickert, executive vice president and chief technology officer at the Cleveland-based subsidiary of KeyCorp. IntelliWatch provides automated problem detection and can send alerts via pager and e-mail to administrators when there are replication errors.

David Price, who until last month was senior groupware architect at ABN Amro Bank NV, a global bank based in Amsterdam, says his company has been running DYS tools since 1997. He has also used the software to track e-mail usage trends, including the explosion of attachments.

"We've seen 100 percent growth in [the use of attachments in] the last couple years," he says. "It allowed us to present the same metrics that our firewall people had done for some time." With those metrics, Price says, the company can make usage rules.

For Price, having reports that showed the growth in the use of e-mail attachments justified the purchase of TurboGold compression software from Stampede Technologies Inc. in Dayton, Ohio.

ABN Amro's IT staff can now prove that it's meeting the terms of internal service-level agreements instead of arguing with users over downtime. The software tracks replication to ensure that databases, or even individual e-mails, are successfully replicated. "Of course, in any organization, you get people who say, 'I never get my mail in less than 10 hours,' " Price says. But now IT has real numbers as proof.

Legal Pressure

For some, managing messages is driven by legal requirements. "As with all law firms, records management is a critical issue," says Jackson Ratcliffe, vice president of technology at the Menlo Park, Calif., office of Venture Law Group, a law firm that represents technology start-ups. His firm is required by law to save all correspondence about and from its clients.

"E-mail has taken over our correspondence," Ratcliffe says. The firm, which is an Exchange shop, ran a simple public-folders system in Windows, where employees could store information for every client, but e-mails still weren't well organized or safely stored, Ratcliffe says.

"All of a sudden, we discovered our Exchange server got up over 20GB," he recalls. "To restore a 20GB database is scary. You don't want to do it. I could configure to avoid this, but I'm a smaller shop, and I don't have the resources to [manage] a public-folders Exchange server."

So Venture Law went from relying upon Exchange to making SQL Server the foundation of its document management architecture. The firm also used FileSurf software from MDY Advanced Technologies Inc. in Fair Lawn, N.J., to take messages from public folders in the Exchange server every night and automatically move them to a file server across a virtual private network that connects its offices in Menlo Park, San Francisco, Kirkland, Wash., and Reston, Va.

"Both Domino and Exchange have a big blob [binary] database, and the bad thing is you can't access any single message until you restore all messages," so Venture Law was in danger of losing its documents, Ratcliffe says. "You have to assume everything is going to go down." Users are still responsible for moving e-mails to a FileSurf folder, which appears as part of the Outlook e-mail client in the user interface. However, the nightly backup, from which Ratcliffe can extract individual messages or the entire store, makes that data more secure.

Venture Law now stores a half-million messages in a file server, and its message store has grown to more than 35GB. But Ratcliffe breathes a lot easier these days. "I don't have to worry about crashes," he says.

Knowing What You've Got

One of the main problems with messaging is the unwieldy mass of communications that users must manage and try to sort through to find information, according to David Ferris, president of Ferris Research Inc. in San Francisco.

"These are becoming very rich repositories, which need good management tools and disciplines," he says. "[For example], powerful, easy-to-use search technology, and archiving technology, is needed."

At KeyBank, there is some limited use of Lotus knowledge management tools, according to Executive Vice President and CTO Robert Rickert. But those tools aren't quite what he's looking for. "We're still experimenting," he says.

Sharing information between organizations is even more difficult. Documents and applications must be recognized across different directories to be searchable.

"It is very hard to use Exchange between organizations. Public-folder synchronization between organizations relies on a tool from the Exchange 5.5 BackOffice Resource kit, which is complex to configure and only supports replication between organizations using the same language version of Exchange," says Greg Deckler, an analyst at Ferris.

"Directory synchronization is near impossible for an Exchange administrator without outside help; the InterOrg Synchronization utility in Exchange 5.5 doesn't work with Exchange 2000, leaving the only option being to engage Microsoft Consulting Services to implement and configure Microsoft Metadirectory Services," says Deckler. "Using Exchange between organizations is nowhere near as easy as in Notes, which is no cup of tea."

Some companies are trying to deal with the problem by Web-enabling their documents.

Venture Law Group's 300 users now access their Outlook e-mail through a Web interface.

"We do not install a file server on most of the people's PCs," says Jackson Ratcliffe, vice president of technology at Venture. "All the users in the firm access the file server through Internet Explorer, via the browser."

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