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Toward more efficient large document delivery

Any organization that sends large documents or needs to reduce e-mail system strain can benefit significantly from the adoption of e-mail document delivery.

The history of business communications is marked by the need for faster information and document delivery, starting...

with postal mail which evolved into overnight delivery, then fax, then e-mail and now instant messaging. Today's global businesses simply demand that information be shared immediately. While the speed of communications has increased significantly over the past few decades, the ability to deliver very large documents has not kept pace.

The limiting factors in electronic document delivery

Michael D. Osterman
Michael D. Osterman

While e-mail is a useful tool for the transport of text messages, it falls short when sending extremely large documents. E-mail systems are inefficient at handling these documents because they are optimized to handle high volumes of relatively small text messages of several kilobytes. Further, e-mail is inherently not secure, a serious issue for EDD. As a result, when users must send extremely large documents -- the norm in many industries like graphic design, advertising, engineering or architecture, as well as the proliferation of PowerPoint files in just about any industry -- they resort to burning CDs or printing out these documents and sending them via overnight courier. Finally, e-mail lacks return-receipt-type tracking, which is an important component of EDD.

An Osterman Research survey conducted in April found that nearly 6% percent of the attachments that through flow through e-mail are 10 megabytes or larger, while more than 3% are 50MB or larger. While the percentage of total messages with large attachments may seem relatively small, there are three important things to consider:

  • Even a small percentage of very large attachments can impose enormous strains on a messaging system. For example, if only 1% of messages sent through an e-mail server contain attachments, but each attachment is 10MB, then that 1% of messages will represent 91% of the traffic flowing through the server.
  • Transporting and retaining very large attachments can impose serious problems for a messaging system, including significant growth in the size of message stores. Mail server storage is growing 25-50% per year (or more) in many organizations, which causes cost and maintenance problems.
  • There is significant demand for the ability to send large attachments, demand that has been largely underserved through e-mail because of the inability of current messaging infrastructures to efficiently send large documents.

Requirements of an enterprise EDD system

Finally, a new solution has been developed to meet the need for faster, simpler and more secure electronic document delivery. There are several requirements to consider when evaluating EDD systems:

  • EDD solutions must be easy to use for both the user and IT. This means that not only should the EDD system be completely intuitive for the average non-technical user, but it should be reliable, integrated with existing work processes and easy to support.
  • Ideally, an EDD solution will operate via a plug-in to Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes -- the most commonly used enterprise clients -- for the sender and require no special software for the recipient.
  • An EDD system must provide secure delivery, such as automatic encryption without requiring user intervention.
  • An EDD system must provide electronic tracking so that the destinations to which the electronic documents are being sent and how much of the document has been transferred can be determined.
  • An EDD solution should be able to optimize any bandwidth parameters presented to it so that it can handle limited, remote and "spotty" bandwidth, and can fill large point-to-point pipes for maximum speed of transfer.

Benefits and ROI of an EDD system

The benefits

While the speed of communications has increased significantly over the past few decades, the ability to deliver very large documents has not kept pace.

Michael D. Osterman, analyst,

All of these infrastructure benefits yield a ROI and can enable e-mail server consolidation, which leads to improved manageability.

Once the EDD infrastructure is deployed, it is very inexpensive to operate. Compared with physical document delivery, electronic sharing is much less expensive which, in turn, will lead to increased document delivery and, hence, more collaboration. Enterprises that use EDD systems have experienced a dramatic increase in the quantity of information shared. The ability to share information quickly, effortlessly and inexpensively is a prerequisite for transparent collaboration and synchronization between disparate physical locations -- EDD enables this.

An EDD solution: E-mail attachment caching

The benefits of an EDD system can be realized with e-mail attachment caching, a technology that enhances and optimizes the e-mail infrastructure. E-mail attachment caching has evolved from the discovery that 80% to 90% of the bulk in the typical mailbox, and in e-mail throughput, comes from attachments. Moreover, because attachments are often large, they are not handled optimally by e-mail servers, many of which have been designed to handle small e-mails.

E-mail attachment caching works by offloading the large files normally 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 with the desktop e-mail client, or 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. Attachments are replaced with a secure link that is embedded in the e-mail message. The e-mail with the secure link is then sent to the mail server and then on to the recipient.

Michael D. Osterman is president and founder of Osterman Research Inc. He has more than 20 years experience in the market research industry, conducting research for a wide variety of technology-based clients, including Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, KVS, Sun Microsystems, Mirapoint, USinternetworking and EMC.

There are several challenges that impede the quick and efficient transfer of very large documents or electronic document delivery (EDD) via conventional e-mail systems, including bandwidth and current e-mail infrastructure. Bandwidth has become more abundant and less expensive, however, it is hardly ubiquitous. Remote locations are not always served by high bandwidth pipes, making it difficult to receive large documents, particularly through e-mail. and return on investment of an enterprise EDD solution are immediate and provide users with greater productivity, and IT realizes increased manageability and lower system costs. Because of the intelligent rules by which the system sends and distributes multiple copies of large documents, bandwidth is saved because the files are replicated to a local cache at the recipient's location. Storage is saved because of smart replication when delivering the file, but also because the files can be deleted or moved to near-line storage to meet compliance and retention requirements. An EDD system can dramatically improve mail server performance, allowing more users to be supported per server. Bandwidth utilization with EDD is optimized so that larger pipes can be filled. Conversely, for low bandwidth connections, large spikes can be avoided and large file delivery is made less painful.

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