Rescue From the Abyss

What’s the big deal about email?

You use it every day to communicate. Exchanges are often informal even in business settings where email often takes the place of in-person communications.

If email makes you feel impatient, there is always instant messaging (IM) for rapid fire parlay. And, if you’re on the run, a quick text message will get your point across.

Now, this may be all fine and dandy when everything runs smoothly like on most days.

But, what do you do when your email server crashes? Not so simple now.

Or, what if you need to retrieve an email message from two weeks, two months, or two years ago for litigation or for compliance needs? Things get a bit dicey.

Think that’s bad. Imagine dealing with issues involving your IM and text messages in a business setting.

But, I digress.

Email is where the bulk of business communications happens today. Having a sound strategy for recovering email and searching email archives is critical regardless of what industry you’re in.

Cover Your App

Face it. We live in a litigious and regulatory-happy world.

Once it was hardcopy documents and files that needed to be produced on demand for court cases and regulatory bodies. Now, email trails can make or break a trial. As the dominant form of business communications today, emails are now formal records.

Case in point: a variety of state or regional as well as federal regulations require that email now be retained as a normal part of doing business.

In the US, governing bodies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), and HIPAA (health insurance) have requirements for the storage of food, financial, and health-related information particular to their governance.

The challenge, however, is not as much storage as retrieval. The layout of the de facto standard email application Microsoft Exchange Server is not the most conducive architecture for recovering and searching on email.

Microsoft Exchange stores emails in multiple locations including private folders (priv.edb) and public folders (pub.edb). Add to this complexity an additional file for temporary storage (priv.stm) as used if you’re still on Exchange Server 2003 and several log files and you can picture what a nightmare rebuilding or sorting through this quagmire might be.

Backup can be relatively quick but requires duplicating the entire .edb database meaning copying every bit of email to a redundant server. This approach is not the most cost-effective strategy and is somewhat counter to today’s virtual data center and cloud architectures since not contributing in the least to resource optimization.

An alternative approach involves copying individual mailboxes or brick-level backup. While selective backups may be speedier, they also take longer…much longer.

For example, a 400 mailbox full backup might take one hour compared to 18 hours for backing up each mailbox individually. Reality for most data centers is probably somewhere in between these two use cases.

When it comes to getting back to business after an outage, disaster recovery is about recovery time. In the real world you might want to only use brick-level backup for executives or for those employees handling sensitive information.

For record retrieval, it’s about getting to the right information. Given the need to meet legal and compliance requirements, it’s no surprise that a third of all respondents (32%) in a recent EMC survey cited granular, file-level recovery as one of their top challenges for recovery.

Have a Plan

What can you do to ensure your ability to recover and search your email?

Have a plan! It’s the equivalent of a get out of jail free card.

Here are four (4) considerations for an effective email recovery and search plan:

1. Meet Your Recovery-Time Objective (RTO): Regardless of the situation, disaster recovery is still about recovery time. Know your obligations and make sure you have the tools and run-book to meet your needs.

2. Keep It Simple: Any tool that you should consider should be easy to install, secure, and intuitive to use. The last thing you want to do is make changes to your Exchange architecture to integrate a recovery tool.

3. Don’t Skimp on the Search Capability: Like most organizations, your company is awash in email and attachments.  Whatever tool you choose should have a powerful search capability.  The effectiveness of the search capability effects how quickly you will be able to recover. Do not underestimate the benefits of the search feature.

4. The More Recovery Options, the Better: Snaps and clones (i.e. copies or replicas of data) is the greatest thing to happen to business continuity since RAID, but there are options that take their benefits even further.

Choose Wisely

Luckily, times have changed. You’ve got more choices now—and alternatives to recovering from tape.   

There are now tools with the ability to recover email with a high level of granularity.  These tools are able to recover email and item-level files or attachments directly from your snaps and clones, and restore them back to Outlook without the hassle of configuring a recovery server for full backups. 

Again, think about your needs including recovery time and search needs. If you’ve backed up the entire database, look to continuous data protection solutions like EMC RecoverPoint for surgical precision in recovery without the need for sequential access. RecoverPoint allows you to recover an application like Microsoft Exchange from any point in time!  How’s that?  A time machine for Exchange!

Require an alternative to brick-level backups. Look to search and recovery tools like EMC ItemPoint.

Specific to Exchange, ItemPoint utilizes your existing copies made with EMC Replication Manager, and allows you to perform a highly targeted search emails based on parameters such as from, to, and date ranges. You even have the ability to search across multiple mailboxes or .edb files simultaneously, quickly and accurately pinpointing your target. 

With a tool like ItemPoint, you can search and retrieve emails and attachments in minutes, rather than hours or even days with tape and traditional methods.

Now, we’ve only touched on saving your email, which is the majority of your electronic communication. But, IM and text messaging may be next.

If it moves, legislate it; if it generates revenue, tax it.

Instant messaging and mobile communications may well be the source of your next big headache! But, in the meantime, save your email from the abyss.


About the Author: Mark Prahl