This presents a number of distinct IT issues:
Moving digital assets (files) around -- Video-, audio-, graphic- and photograph-type files are among the largest files produced -- often hundreds of megabytes or even a gigabyte in size. Standard collaboration tools such as e-mail can't handle -- or handle poorly -- the delivery of these size files.
Copyright and digital rights management -- Protecting illegal copying and distribution is crucial. Also, sharing internally and then externally with partners and clients has to be managed for version control.
Bandwidth -- Sending and receiving large files requires adequate bandwidth between key locations -- this can be very costly in distributed, multi-national organizations.
Electronic distribution -- Once the creative product is finished, how is it delivered to the numerous distributors, printers, broadcast outlets, and Web sites?
Storage infrastructure -- Storing multiple versions of very large files can rapidly escalate, imposing a huge and costly storage management issue.
Moving digital assets
The first challenge, moving the digital assets around or very large file delivery has been solved traditionally with inconvenient and costly workarounds:
- Burning and over-nighting CDs, or sending videotapes -- Both impose a significant delay on the creative process.
- FTP -- Individual FTP servers must be maintained and users trained to use them.
- Electronic messaging services -- These are outside of the corporate messaging infrastructure so users must manage a separate user interface, accounts, address book, etc.
These solutions are costly not only in real dollars but also in critical creative cycle and productivity time. Over-nighting introduces delays of days while the electronic alternatives are cumbersome and not within the preferred collaboration method of e-mail.
The caching solution
E-mail attachment caching solves several of the challenges facing CIOs in digital asset intensive businesses:
Quickly moves GB size files -- Any recipient, internal or external to the company, can send and receive any size file via e-mail. File size limitations are eliminated and the server bottlenecks and desktop crashes associated with sending them.
Enhancing performance in remote location -- Remote locations with low bandwidth connections are often the first to suffer from electronic delivery bottlenecks caused by sending or receiving large files. Caching appliances in these locations remove e-mail bottlenecks that often occur with large attachments.
Improves storage utilization -- E-mail attachment caching enables the company to set attachment replication and deletion rules that allow administrators to manage the life cycle of attachments in accordance with compliance and retention policies. Attachments are cached on local appliances for immediate access and can later be automatically moved to longer-term storage such as a SAN.
Additionally, the attachment caching solution goes further to enhance large file delivery by adding a level of transparent security and improved mail server performance:
Added security -- Transparent to the sender and recipient, attachments are replaced with secure links and sent securely outside the firewall. Attachments are encrypted, fingerprinted, compressed and delivered via secure tunnels. Return read receipts are generated -- that can't be turned off by the recipient -- and detailed reports can be generated for auditing and tracking.
Improved server performance -- Attachments take up to 80% of e-mail server resources. When attachments are removed from the e-mail server -- for delivery and storage -- more users can be supported on fewer servers, with improved performance. Spikes due to large attachments and distribution lists are smoothed so network and processor peak loads are drastically reduced.
How e-mail attachment caching works
E-mail attachment caching works by offloading the large files (sent as e-mail attachments) to distributed caching appliances, rather than going through the e-mail servers. Sending the large files can be directly integrated to the desktop e-mail client, or alternatively, a Web client can be used. Both user interface solutions integrate with corporate LDAP and directory services. Because the servers are simple caches, they do not need to be backed up, restored or defragmented.
Yuri Aguiar is a senior partner and CTO of worldwide IT at Ogilvy & Mather.