Storage running out?

You need a plan that goes beyond telling your users to periodically clean out their mailboxes. Here are some suggestions on how to develop an effective data management regime.

With the increasing need for storage space and constantly tight IT budgets, probably one of your challenges is balancing the state of your storage with your e-mail server needs. Basically, something's going to give.

When you are talking about Microsoft Exchange, what's going to give is the amount of e-mail you can put on a server. Exchange 2003's limit of 16 GB means that you can think about adding all the storage you want, but once your Exchange database hits that number, the game is up.

So what are you to do? The easiest solutions are well known. Some include forcing users to clean out their mailboxes periodically, or doing it for them. This may work, provided that you put some teeth in the policy. For example, I used to work for a company that put a maximum size on each user's mail store, and notified users that they needed to reduce the size of their file well before that limit was reached. If users got to that limit, then the e-mail system refused to let users send messages to anyone else before they cleaned the offending file.

Such strictures force users to keep their mail stores at a given size, and thus help you keep the mail store overall within manageable limits. But--and this is a big but--there are factors outside your and your users' control that will mean such efforts are ultimately doomed to failure.

Company growth means that you'll add more users. And new government requirements, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, mandate that you keep more data, including e-mail data, stored and easily retrievable. Moreover, the aforementioned bill requires that you document your procedures for maintaining data related to financial matters, for example, and that you audit these procedures periodically to make sure they are current and that they will work. Inevitably, that requirement in itself will mean you're keeping more information in your message store.

This might seem to be nothing more than a paperwork exercise, but the fact is that unless you have these procedures nailed down, documented, and tested, you can't be sure that your data management regime is up to snuff.

All of which means you need some sort of policy for keeping some data and trashing some other kinds of info. So how does such a policy come about? Here are a few suggestions on how you can mold one to fit your needs.

Veritas has a white paper on its web site (one of a series of five) that touts the efficacy of Veritas products in managing storage resources, and offers some general considerations on storage resource management. This paper, "How to Reclaim 30 Percent of your Storage Space and Control Storage Growth," offers a list of topics that a general storage resource management policy should address. While your list includes managing Exchange, consider the following:

  • How employee space gets allocated, monitored and requested
  • How overall disk space gets monitored and cleaned up to maintain acceptable performance
  • How employee space gets cleaned and reclaimed
  • What file types get blocked from what servers
  • How the help desk assists employees in maintaining their space
  • What employees' files get archived, when and how
  • How employee storage abuses get reported
  • How new employees learn about the policy and its procedures

How you come up with answers to these policy considerations is, of course, up to you, your organization and its culture.

If you're concerned with the Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, (Section 302 is already in force, and requires you to have certain disclosure controls and procedures; Section 404, with its audit requirements, goes into effect this June), there are various consultants and vendors that can certainly offer some assistance. For instance, Open Pages has a white paper available from its home page that offers some general considerations on complying with the Act, and tells you how the company's product SOX Express will help you do it.

While you need to get a handle on the amount of e-mail storage you're using, I don't recommend that you go the route of just deleting everything over a certain age, or even allowing your users to do the same thing.

Instead, you need data to respond to requirements for reporting, and it's a good idea to make sure you know what you're keeping and deleting before you do it.

David Gabel has been testing and writing about computers for more than 25 years.

This was first published in April 2004

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