E-discovery rules could prompt e-mail archive crunch

E-mail archiving experts say recent changes to the rules that govern how digital documents are used in U.S. courts will drive demand for their products and force enterprises to develop more sophisticated retention policies.

Late last year, the U.S. amended its Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to require that parties in a legal dispute bring up and agree upon e-discovery issues at the beginning of proceedings. These could include the file format of documents, how documents should be preserved and who has access to them. The rules could apply to any Canadian branch office of a U.S. firm, or any Canadian enterprise that deals with the States.

“As you go, ‘Let’s sue,’ e-mail plays a role because it’s the most uncontrolled transfer of communication in the history of the world,” said Eric Goodwin, president of Toronto-based Fortiva. “You often say things in the heat of the moment (through e-mail) that you wish you could withdraw, and that can become evidence.”

Michael O’Shea, president of consulting firm The Information Professionals in Barrie, Ont., said many companies struggle to develop an e-mail retention policy and integrate the proper tools.

“The problem is, they’re dealing with it as a class all by itself. You don’t ask how long to keep paper or microfilm or magnetic records,” he said. “Archiving is one thing, but that’s still the smoking gun. You also need to deal with it by the subject to which it relates. There’s a difference between a message about budgets, corporate policy and an invitation to go to lunch.”

Symantec recently released Enterprise Vault, a software-based archiving product that sits behind Microsoft Exchange. It features an automated classification engine that can categorize and retain e-mail based on 50 pre-defined or an unlimited number of customizable rules types. Symantec senior product manager Dave Campbell said customers have shown little consistency in how they approach retention policies.

“There are some companies which are very aggressive and delete everything after a certain period of time. That reduces storage requirements, but causes challenges when you need the information,” he said. “There are also a ton of companies that are saving everything forever, which is great from a discovery prospective, but storage costs rise.”

Fortiva, which added data validation and auditing capabilities to its own outsourced managed service last year, sees a similar variability, Goodwin said. Some companies might have set a policy to keep e-mail for no more than 15 days before moving to backup tapes, but the cost of restoring from backup would be enormous, Goodwin said.

“There are professional consulting organizations in the States who say you shouldn’t delete it, ever,” he said. “The problem is, Exchange servers weren’t designed to be storage servers – they were designed to be transaction servers.”

O’Shea said some clients demand that users treat e-mail the way they would have paper in their old-fashioned inbox. “They have to do something with it – reply, forward, delete it or save it in a corporate directory. It can’t stay in Outlook,” he said.

Experts agreed that e-mail archiving projects would see IT departments work in partnership with finance department executives, a records management office or a chief administrative officer.

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