Managing the Messaging Deluge

At the beginning of the 1990s, managing e-mailboxes wasn't much different than managing traditional mailboxes. It was just another administrative duty delegated to secretaries and office assistants.

"Having come out of a convenient little executive toy in the last decade to an infrastructure-critical application is [e-mail's] biggest accomplishment of the last decade," said Michele Rubenstein, president of the EMA, formerly the Electronic Messaging Association and now a forum within Menlo Park, Calif.-based The Open Group.

"When you're looking at companies that have tens of thousands of users, you can literally stop business if e-mail goes down," Rubenstein said.

"The number of users has proliferated from hundreds [in one company] to hundreds of thousands when you think about customers and suppliers," said Jack Cooper, CIO of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in New York.

"Reliability of the systems is always a challenge because it's something that people are always looking at," said Ryan Mitchell, a former e-mail administrator at Hewitt Associates LLC in Lincolnshire, Ill.

Early business use of e-mail was strictly inside the corporation. E-mail software wasn't built to exchange messages between systems. For administrators, it kept things simple. Then came standards. Standards allowed everyone to send e-mail to anyone, since we all use the same protocol to transfer e-mail, Secure Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions. In addition to the security implications, administrators must now contend with the massive volume of messages that need to be stored, Mitchell said.

"The amount of storage, and the security and the metadirectory that keep the directory accurate becomes an important task," Cooper said. "You have to carefully monitor and access the e-mail storage. If not, it can become a huge hog of resources."

Some companies, like Chicago-based The Boeing Co., put strict limits on their users' mailboxes. Others simply warn a user when his mailbox has gobbled up too much disk space. But volume also brings another problem.

Companies need to get client and partner lists integrated into their directories, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

E-mail administrators must set up each user account, an encryption key associated with that account and the user's access rights. Some also manage what kind of information gets outside the firewall. Scanning software can do this, but the task has as much to do with establishing policies as with technology, and that creates more work for the administrator.

It's almost impossible to keep track of what comes in, and, just as important, what goes out. A digital rights management system, software that protects intellectual property from flying out onto the Internet, is one solution, but it requires role management.

"The issue of role management is, in my opinion, tied in with the whole concept of identity management," Rubenstein said. "That ID can be an entity like a router or a person, or it could be a group. How do you manage it? I don't always know [my partners]. I haven't done business with them for 20 years, I may only do business with them once in a lifetime."

The fact that you can get at mail in many ways from many places "distributes intellectual property to places you'll never be able to manage it," said Mitchell. "We're trying really hard to set policy, but policy only goes so far."

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Three decades of e-mail change the enterprise

E-mail has profoundly changed the way we do business.

Managing the messaging deluge

As e-mail has matured from being an executive toy to a mission-critical technology, administering messaging systems has become one of the most complex tasks in the enterprise.

E-Mail security: 'It's the wild, wild, West'

Security is probably the biggest challenge for e-mail administrators, after uptime.

What lies ahead for the messaging enterprise?

Messaging technologies will continue to transform the enterprise by providing rich media, real-time collaboration and much more—including storage and administrative headaches.

History lesson

Who sent the first Internet electronic mail message and came up with the @ sign?

ONLINE EXCLUSIVES:

An Internet pioneer reflects on e-mail

Venton Cerf, one of the co-inventors of TCP/IP, talked to Computerworld senior editor Gary Anthes on e-mail's past and messaging's future.

Case Study: Managing e-mail in academia

How the University of Miami manages the messaging needs of 185,000 students, along with those of professors, administrators and staff.

Society goes online

Internet electronic mail began as a way for scientists to communicate, but it has found its way into everyone's life.

Cutting-edge messaging tools

A list of vendors and their Web sites.

E-Mail History Resource Links

Find out more about e-mail history on the Web.

E-Mail Management, Adminstration and Security Resources

Links to technical specifications, tutorials, news, white papers and more from around the Web.

What do you think?

Share your opinions and memories about how e-mail has changed the way we communicate, and read what others have to say in our online forum.

E-Mail and Groupware Coverage

Continuing Computerworld news and feature coverage of e-mail and groupware.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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