Vanquish spam, conquer archives – take control of your e-mail in 2009

Why are so many technical advances a constant balance between useful and frustrating? I nominate e-mail as one of the most helpful yet aggravating advances when you judge easy communications against spam and mail-borne viruses.

Make another resolution to improve your e-mail situation this year.

One way to improve e-mail, as I wrote back in October, is to Get More Work Done with Less E-Mail.

But since you can’t get away from e-mail completely, you need to get a better handle on spam, e-mail security, e-mail archiving, and encryption for certain communications.

Luckily, hundreds of vendors offer you such services, including one you probably didn’t know about: Google.

Well, not so much Google themselves as Postini, bought by Google over a year ago. Postini was a small player in the big market, and now they’re part of a huge player trying to break into that market. When they called to tell me their plans, they said the right things, but they have to gain some market share to make me believe it.

Before we dive into Google Apps Security Services, you need to decide what you have and what you need.

Do you have a good spam solution? I’ve always favored a two step filter process: one before your e-mail server, and one at the client. Block most of the spam before it gets into your e-mail server, then let users filter out the rest.

Search for “network spam filter” and you’ll get millions of results. Is there anyone out there with no network spam filters at all?

You can put spam filters on your server with software, on your network with appliances, or use a hosted service. I like the hosted service offerings because they work before the spam onslaught floods your server and clogs up your bandwidth. The farther away you can stop the spam, the better.

That’s the method Postini/Google uses for their spam and virus security service. For $12 per user per year, you route all your mail through Google/Postini and they clean it up for you before it hits your network and e-mail server.

The pricing is good (some competitors are in the $2 to $3 per user per month range), and there’s no hardware or software to buy. Even better, you get the bandwidth back that spam steals from you today.

Spam makes up 90 per cent of all e-mail traffic some days, so blocking that flood before it hits you can really extend the useful life of your mail server. If you already outsource your e-mail server, you won’t notice a huge bandwidth boost. If you host your own e-mail server in house, adding an upstream spam and virus filter will really boost your server’s performance.

I’ve talked to numerous small companies that were about to buy a new server just because spam processing bogged theirs down so much. Adding an upstream spam filter allowed them to postpone spending tens of thousands of dollars.

If you don’t like the idea of an upstream spam filtering service, but your server-based spam processing is slowing your server, try an appliance. Putting a hardware appliance in front of your e-mail server will take the spam processing burden off your mail server.

The price of the appliance is always, I repeat always, less expensive than buying and installing a new mail server. Your bandwidth will still be taken up by spam, but the spam won’t eat your server’s CPU cycles.

Those of you still letting your Web hosting service handle your e-mail won’t have any of these problems. However, if you’re Web host doesn’t offer good spam filtering (mine doesn’t), then you may want to look at a hosting service.

Many of the Web-based e-mail systems will now support your own domain name for e-mail and even customize the page users see. E-mail specific hosting companies usually do a much better job filtering spam and viruses than companies providing Web hosts and, oh yes, e-mail.

While spam and viruses can be handled (to some level of success) by just about any mail hosting provider, archiving, encryption, and Web surfing security services require more specialization. So many industries are now being forced to archive their e-mail that the technology has really taken a leap forward in ease of use and affordability in the two years.

Archiving e-mail makes great sense when you’re large enough to worry about lawsuits from customers or employees. It makes sense before that, but fear of lawyers finally push many companies into e-mail and business document archiving.

Complying with e-mail archiving requirements takes experience, which is a great reason to investigate a hosted e-mail archiving service. Just saving copies of old e-mails isn’t archiving, which the opposing lawyer in a civil action will happily tell you in front of a judge.

Letting a third party handle the crossed t’s and dotted i’s, along with the hardware requirements needed to archive e-mail, will save you from making an expensive mistake.

Adding archiving to an e-mail service will add a few dollars per user per month. As your e-mail archive grows, you may have to pay more for storage if you pay based on storage space. If you use an archiving service similar to that from Google/Postini, you pay a flat rate per user per year no matter how verbose your coworkers are with their e-mails.

Encrypted e-mail messages remain a tough nut, but e-mail portals and service providers are making it easier.

Encrypted messages stored on protected servers accessed over SSL-encrypted Internet connections provides perfectly usable encrypted e-mail for many users. If you need more than occasional e-mail encryption, talk to an expert.

No one’s able to make it easy to send encrypted e-mails to people you don’t know, but it is simpler to send encrypted e-mail to a defined set of contacts today. Expect to pay plenty for an encryption service, as in $35 to $75 per user per month.

Adding up the dollars per month for all the add-on e-mail services may cause sticker shock. Once you recover your breath, take a close look at how much you’re spending on your own e-mail server today.

Add up hardware, software, maintenance, and support, and the mail hosting service should look like a bargain. Don’t forget to figure in staff time, because I’ve talked to companies with only 50 people who dedicated two-thirds of a technician’s day just for Microsoft Exchange babysitting.

If you want to handle your own e-mail services, and you’re large enough to have staff with security training to protect you, feel free. Until then, better e-mail is just a phone call, and a browser interface, away.

Source: Network World (U.S.)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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