The perils of archiving in ANZ

from IDM Magazine May-June 2009

Australia and New Zealand organisations have revealed the significant project risks in implementing an archival platform, in a survey by IBRS analyst Dr Kevin McIsaac.

McIsac found that a quarter of archiving projects take more than two years to implement and nearly half of IT managers state that they would not recommend the archiving product they had selected.

The survey focused on the business drivers and the status of archiving implementation, and attracted 51 responses from a wide range of organisations.

Most respondents stated that technical benefits – reducing storage hardware and operational costs, avoiding purchasing more primary disk and reducing the backup window – were more important than the business benefits of enabling compliance and e- discovery.

This indicates that archiving is being viewed as a technical tool to deal with the growth of data and its storage requirements.

Part of the reason for this is that IT managers are finding it difficult to engage the business managers in conversations about the benefits of archiving.

A common IT complaint was the difficulty in getting business to participate in defining archival policies. If an organisation has a Business Records and Document Management Framework, IT managers should leverage this framework to drive creation of archiving policies, otherwise treat archiving as a technical project to create a storage tiering architecture.

Email is the most important data type to archive; with 93% of respondents saying this was either “important” or “very important”. File data was the second most important with 85% saying this was either “important” or “very important”. On the other hand, SharePoint was the least important data type; with only 35% of respondents saying this was either “important” or “very important”.

Given the massive growth rates of email and the fact that most businesses consider email as an essential infrastructure, it is not surprising to find that email archiving was the most important.

The fact that SharePoint scores low is due to the relative immaturity of SharePoint projects and the fact that it has usually been implemented as small tactical projects. As the amount of information in SharePoint repositories grows, McIsaac expects the importance of SharePoint archiving to match that of email archiving.

However he notes that "archiving SharePoint will be complicated as the product has multiple ways to store and access information (folders, SQL databases, formal document management solutions and so on)."

While 72% of respondents had tried to implement an archiving solution, only 60% of these projects had been accepted into production, with an alarming 5% being cancelled and a further 16% experiencing significant delays. A third of all projects have been in progress for at least 12 months and a surprising 23% more than two years!

Worse, less that 60% of respondents would recommend the archiving product they had tried to implement!This meshes with IBRS’s experience that a significant proportion of organisations attempting to implement archiving are experiencing great difficulty in making the products work. Based on this survey, and a large number of client interviews, we found the following common drivers for the archiving projects being delayed or failing.

Email platform : We found that Lotus Notes based organisations struggled to find products that work with their email platform, though in recent months this has changed somewhat. When short- listing products we recommend confirming how mature the archive platform is for the organisation’s existing products, with special attention especially paid to email platforms.

While email is often a centralised deployment, it is still common to find multiple email servers distributed across the organisation. Further, users’ files are usually located in the same office as the users and are highly distributed. Depending on the product, the introduction of archiving can make the management of this distributed environment much more complex. Archiving data distributed over a wide area network (WAN) creates significant problems because most archiving products are only designed to work over local area networks (LANs). When an application accesses a file that is archived over a WAN, the time taken to recover the file can cause serious problems for the application. Microsoft Word and Excel can fail when accessing large archived files over a WAN. These problems are compounded by misleading application error messages – Microsoft Word, for example says the requested file is missing or corrupted.

Archiving across a WAN is not a transparent process and can make the file and email environment more expensive to manage and less usable.

IBRS strongly recommend IT organisations undertake detailed reference checks and visit organisations with similar environments that have successfully implemented the archiving products being considered prior to final product selection. Even where hands- on reference sites suggest that implementation is possible, conduct a rigorous proof of concept that covers all the complexity of the production environment to confirm that the product will work in your environment.

IBRS conclude that while archiving is simple in principle, there is significant diversity in email and file environments that cause otherwise successful products to fail. The successful archive projectsIBRS had seen in Australian are typified by being relatively simple environments, such as a single, centralised Exchange server with fewer than 3000 email boxes.