Backing up IM

If you're like many companies, you're making increasing "official" use of instant messenger (IM) - like communications tools. And if you're like most, you're not backing up any of it.

That's a practice that Legato Systems, Inc. is hoping to change, with version 4 of its EmailXtender product. This is a centralized data storage and retrieval system that automatically moves data off the e-mail message server and into a storage system, capturing and indexing all incoming and outgoing e-mails. EmailXtender is a policy-based system that collects, organizes, retains and retrieves e-mail messages and all related attachments.

With version 4, companies can now do all that for instant messages, too. Bill Maguire, Legato's CIO, says they're implementing this package in-house as well as hoping their customers do the same. "Instant messaging is becoming a bigger tool in corporate America every day," he says. "We have groups of engineers who use it during a teleconference to share ideas they've brought up during the conference. So I've got to pay attention to it," he explains.

Both the beauty and the vulnerability of instant messaging is that it's completely open, over the Internet, for anyone to read. "I've got a responsibility to protect the intellectual property of our company," Maguire says. "And so I have to address this, to make sure our company doesn't get compromised."

So far there seems to be strong customer interest, with "every e-mail customer we have calling to ask what it takes to implement the IM features," he says. "With what's going on in the world today, people are nervous. Everyone's real sensitive right now and wants to protect all the components of their infrastructure."

Up until now, though, IM backup has been virtually ignored in corporate America – not that far behind e-mail backup, it seems. According to a survey from Osterman Research (which Legato sponsored), around 80% of businesses depend on e-mail for things like confirmation of orders, approval for various tasks, and so on. But a majority - 56% - have no e-mail archiving policy in place.

The same is true of IM, I'd wager. In fact, a February survey from Osterman predicts that almost all of corporate America will be using IM in the next few years. And, it said, IM has already significantly reduced the amount of telephone time and "regular" e-mail use in many organizations.

I remain a bit skeptical about the reliance on IM in most organizations. Sure, I understand that many millions of individuals use it, but my belief is that it's mostly for things like where one's co-workers are going for drinks that night, or who's up for the ball game on Saturday. I remember when IM first hit, and I was working at a computer trade newspaper; we mostly used it to complain about our bosses. That's much different than a sanctioned, supported application that needs to be backed up.

Still, I allow that some companies (like Legato) do make more legitimate use of the tool – whether it's from AOL, Microsoft or Yahoo. And if that's the case, perhaps it's time that an official backup policy is created for IM.

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