California City Relieved It Has E-Mail Archives

Requests for access to Oceanside's municipal E-mail often spike during an election year. So the city's CIO created an archive system that he says is serving him well this year.
With the general election a day away, the city of Oceanside, Calif., is looking back at its investment in E-mail-archiving software with relief. E-mail sent between government workers is considered a matter of public record in California thanks to the state's Public Records Act. This means anyone, including the media, citizen groups, and government watchdogs, has the right to access copies of E-mailed documents.

Not an easy task, considering that the city's 1,400 employees send and receive 16,000 messages (including spam) per day. Add to this the fact that the number of public-records requests normally doubles in an election year to as many as 50.

Anticipating this demand, Oceanside CIO Mike Sherwood set out more than four years ago to create a fully indexed, easily searchable archive of all municipal E-mails for two years. The city's initial $30,000 investment paid for an Intel-based server running Enterprise Vault from KVault Software, which has since been acquired by Veritas Software Corp..

In the past, Sherwood's team would have to pull backup tapes from off-site storage to meet a records request, a job that could cost the city up to $5,000 per request.

"We would go to grave expense to provide E-mail records, and sometimes they weren't even accurate," Sherwood says. That's bad, considering how much journalists, activists, and even political candidates rely on public records to do their jobs or build their cases.

The system has undergone a few changes over the past couple of years. Oceanside in July upgraded Enterprise Vault from version 3 to 5, a move that dramatically reduced search times, Sherwood says. The system also has grown over time. It took the city only seven months in 2001 to fill up the 200-Gbyte partition on which it was originally placed. At the time, Oceanside was sending and receiving about 25% of the E-mails it manages today.

The greatest challenge to archiving E-mail is being able to meet the challenges of rapid expansion of data, says Mary Kay Roberto, senior VP and general manager for KVS, which operates as a business unit within Veritas. "A lot of this has to do with effectively being able to plan."

Oceanside citizens can request public records by filling out paper request forms. Sherwood says he's looking at ways to implement Web-based records requests, but there hasn't yet been an urgent demand for this.

As Oceanside's ability to quickly and inexpensively pull E-mail records improves, Sherwood has a piece of advice for anyone working in California's public sector: "Don't include anything in an E-mail that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper."