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You've Got (too Much) Mail

After overcoming early implementation hurdles, USHealth Group solves e-mail archiving logjam and defers additional server investments.

As e-mail use soared and retention requirements intensified, IT headaches became migraines at privately held USHealth Group ($69.7 million in premium income). "E-mail backups alone required 17 hours daily," relates J. Patrick Hines, the Fort Worth, Texas-based life and health insurer's senior network administrator.

Supervisors manually sifted through e-mails, Hines notes. "But with almost 300 users, a backlog rapidly developed," he says. "We were constantly adding to our Microsoft [Redmond, Wash.] Exchange servers, which was expensive."

With just six IT employees, Hines began searching in 2004 for a way to automate e-mail archiving. "Large-vendor solutions, such as EMC's [Hopkinton, Mass.] Centera, were out of our [price] range," Hines says. So he investigated DVD-jukebox appliances, which archive data to DVDs. However, most jukeboxes lacked the ability to retrieve files, according to Hines. "Only PowerFile advertised automatically archiving files based on policies," he says. "And it was plug and play, which is critical for us -- if we can't implement something ourselves, then it's the wrong solution for our IT budget."

By the time USHealth released funding for the initiative in 2006, PowerFile (Santa Clara, Calif.) had released its Permanent Storage Appliance (PSA). The appliance's front end is a network-attached storage (NAS) drive that connects the PSA to a local-area network (LAN) and writes data to DVDs. A plus was that the PSA was specifically listed as compatible with USHealth's Dell (Round Rock, Texas) infrastructure. "The PSA arrived in August and was easy to set up," notes Hines. "But it took a month ... to solve a hardware issue that amounted to plugging a cable into an alternate port."

In September, USHealth began testing the PSA's e-mail archiving capabilities. "We had a few issues, but ... it turned out that the software, Archive One, was actually developed and supported by C2C Systems [Springfield, Mass.]," Hines recalls. "Fortunately, C2C's support was excellent."

More frustrations arose when data archiving capabilities were tested. While Hines expected the same point-and-click interface for retrieving data files as for e-mails, the PSA required end users to understand advanced system-level file-search strategies, according to Hines, a requirement that he calls "unacceptable." To rectify the problem, "PowerFile offered us Abrevity's [Cupertino, Calif.] FileData Classifier for about $3,000," Hines adds.

Hines contends that the PSA is more of a "bundle" than an end-to-end e-mail and data archiving solution, which can present integration challenges for a small IT department. "With only two of us in administration, several consecutive hurdles created a domino effect that became a significant burden," he laments.

Fortunately, everything worked out. According to Hines, after migrating old e-mails off production servers to the PSA, the e-mail backup process plummeted to just two hours. And the Archive One software now automatically archives e-mails to the PSA when user-defined criteria are met. "We've regained so much Exchange server capacity that it will last for the equipment's life cycle," Hines notes. And the PSA hardware itself exceeds expectations, he adds. "It's a solid, scalable platform that will continue to meet our needs, even if we grow faster than we anticipate," Hines says.

Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio

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