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Businesses Struggle Under Growing Weight Of E-Mail

From in-box overload to lawsuits, e-mail can deliver a nasty bite. Get control of it before you're a victim.
Seven IT people are dedicated to the task of managing all that. "As with any organization, we're asked to be more creative with our support and our ability to manage our volumes," Baillargeon says. "We're expecting future volume growth, and we'll deal with it."

Limiting the size of employee mailboxes is a common tactic; employees have no choice but to clean house once their storage limits are reached. At AIM Healthcare, employees can store up to 70 Mbytes of messages in their mailboxes. They're prohibited from sending and receiving extra-large attachments, like media files. "We do some blocking there," Cooper says.

The Conference Board, a New York research center that generates national economic data, has reduced e-mail volume using a Web content management system from HyperOffice, says Mark Lackey, senior manager for knowledge management. It lets users download large business documents from a dedicated Web server so they don't need to be passed around via e-mail. It also makes its key market-moving economic reports available only through a secure Web server. That cuts down on e-mail volume and prevents documents from being leaked ahead of public release.

Fletcher Allen Health Care is benefiting from a feature in C2C's Archive One product called Policy Manager that lets administrators adjust user mailbox sizes through a graphical user interface. It can also be configured to automatically back up e-mail to either short-term storage within Exchange or to external storage systems. David Haber, senior systems engineer at Fletcher Allen, has deployed Archive One across the company's 7,500 Exchange mail-boxes and says it's the only way he can maintain a usable archive of the 300,000 messages (not including spam) received by employees each day. "E-mail is exploding," Haber says. "We need new servers, we need new space."

Haber uses spam-blocking tools to limit volume and configures his Microsoft Exchange network to automatically block messages containing potentially malicious file extensions such as .exe or .vbs. Beyond that, he's resigned to dealing with ever-increasing e-mail loads. He adds that unified messaging technologies that route faxes and voice mail to in-boxes will add to the clutter.

To deal with it all, Haber is building an archiving system that will let users easily store and retrieve e-mail. The company currently stores e-mail on three clustered 32-bit Compaq servers, but it will upgrade to 64-bit systems as part of a planned move to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

For a privileged few, some of the above doesn't apply. It's not uncommon for businesses to have more lenient policies and larger in-boxes for top executives. At Fletcher Allen, execs get unlimited mailbox sizes. A second tier of workers gets 200 Mbytes, while the rank and file are limited to 50 Mbytes. "It depends on how big of a shot you are," Haber says.

Morgan Stanley's IT department took an entirely different tack, blocking e-mail to former CFO Stephen Crawford in an effort, it says, to shield the busy executive from the daily deluge. But that's hardly common practice. At IBM, a low-ranking programmer can send e-mail directly to CEO Sam Palmisano. And AIM Healthcare has an open-door policy when it comes to sending e-mail to the CEO. Anything less, Cooper says, "would send a bad message."

Bad message? The e-mail beast is licking his lips.

Illustration by Mick McGinty

Continue to the sidebars:
E-mail Lockdown,
and Dig Out From The E-mail Crush

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing