|Why Email Must Operate 24/7 and How to Make This Happen|
An Osterman Research White Paper
Why You Should Read This White Paper
Email is absolutely critical to organizations of all sizes: it is the primary way that individuals communicate, it is the primary way that users send files to others inside and outside their organization, and a growing proportion of organizations use email as the backbone for transaction processing, order processing, customer relationship management, and other mission critical processes. Email use continues to grow and will remain the dominant form of corporate communication for many years to come. However, email systems are not completely reliable. Systems go down as a result of natural disasters, as well as less dramatic problems like a local power outage, a leaky sprinkler pipe above a server or even a planned server outage. Most often, disruptions can occur from something as simple as server patches that are not fully tested or shifting loads that unexpectedly crash a server. The bottom line, however, is that email systems rarely operate 100% of the time despite the need for them to do so.
The results of this downtime can be devastating and can include lost revenue, lost employee productivity, loss of reputation and lost opportunities of which an organization might not even be aware.
How Can You Improve Email Uptime?
Organizations faced with the growing criticality of email and the need to make email outages invisible to end users, whether planned or unplanned, must implement some form of email continuity capability. There are three options to email continuity: hardware, software and hosted services. This white paper focuses on hosted email continuity, the benefits of which include, but are not limited to:
About This White Paper
This white paper, sponsored by MessageLabs, now a part of Symantec, discusses the growing importance of email, the consequences of email operating at less than 100% uptime, the expense of some methods to ensure very high levels of email uptime, and the benefits of a hosted email continuity service.
Email truly has become the primary communications medium for most organizations and it is the communications tool that users can least afford to be without. The vast majority of email users rely more on email than on any other communication modes they use: telephone, instant messaging, face-to-face meetings, faxes, etc. Because corporate email is used at all times – during normal business hours, when employees are at home, or by employees in multiple time zones – email must remain continually available. An email downtime of even 30 minutes can have serious ramifications for employee productivity and corporate revenue. Email must remain continually available because business must remain continually available.
In a recent Osterman Research survey of email users, the importance of email was underscored by the following results:
Email has become the De Facto File Transport System
While email has become the most important communication tool for users in organizations of all sizes, email has also become the de facto method for sending files to others inside and outside of the organization. While many organizations maintain FTP systems that are designed to handle file transfers, the vast majority of users take advantage of email’s ubiquity and ease of use to send documents, spreadsheets, presentations and other content.
One of the consequences of the use of email for file transport is that email has also become the primary repository of critical business information. In effect, it has become an enormous “filing cabinet” of structured and unstructured information. Numerous Osterman Research surveys1 over the past three years have demonstrated that growth in email storage – a direct consequence of using email so freely as a file transport system – is the leading problem in managing messaging systems, worse than malware or spam.
Email is the Way that Organizations do Business
With most organizations using email to send business-critical content and documents and the number of emails increasing each year, businesses need to better protect their email infrastructures from instances of downtime and gain better insight into the issues causing outages. Osterman Research has found that four out of five organizations use email to send, receive and store critical business documents, including contracts, purchase orders, personnel records and other critical business information. As a result, organizations that rely on email for conducting business must have continual access to it to maintain the normal operation of their business.
Growth in the Use of Email
Despite the growth of alternatives to email, such as real-time communications tools like instant messaging or the use of wikis to share business information, email will continue to be the primary communications and file transport mechanism for most business users and most organizations for many years to come. There are four basic reasons that will continue to make email the dominant business communications platform:
Clearly, then, the importance of email to virtually all users and organizations, coupled with the growing criticality of the data sent through and stored in these systems, means that email must remain up and running as close to 24x7 as possible. In short, organizations of every size and in every industry should have a way to maintain continuity of the email system regardless of the external or internal influences that might bring it down. Although there are many good continuity options available, they can be expensive. Further, they require additional IT staff time to architect, deploy and manage. IT staff time devoted to managing these backup capabilities is time that cannot be used for projects that might provide more value to an organization.
Email Systems Go Down
A recent Osterman Research survey found that in mid-sized and large organizations, email systems experience a mean of 53 minutes of unplanned downtime during a typical month. That means that during a one-year period, a typical email system will be down for 10.6 hours. This does not include the scheduled maintenance or other scheduled outages that happen on a regular basis. A company considering email recovery or continuity needs to understand the importance of email and its tolerance for email outages. Decision makers need to understand exactly what impact an email outage can have on their business, although many of them do not understand the full impact of an outage.
Email Downtime can have Damaging Consequences
The consequences of downtime can be serious and dramatic. Among the many ramifications of email downtime are:
Some Downtime Issues are Beyond your Control
Email downtime can result from a variety of actions that are well beyond the control of email administrators. Among the most common causes of email outages are:
Downtime can also result from simple human errors, such as kicking the power plug of a server or rack, failures caused by an Internet Service Provider, the failure of a telecommunications link, the failure of a hard disk or other server component, software failures introduced by a faulty patch or a failure of Active Directory®, migrations to a new messaging system, earthquakes, floods, etc. In short, many – if not most – email outages are caused by factors over which IT staff has little or no control.
In most organizations, email recovery time objectives (RTO) are not aligned with users’ expectations. Typically, organizations settle for an RTO of 4-24 hours. Unfortunately, this number is not in line with executive expectations that email will always be available. A recent survey indicated that users found email outages become extremely painful after a period of about 10 minutes. Even in organizations where all stakeholders have agreed on a 24-hour RTO, a lengthy email outage may put IT jobs at risk.
While users expect a very quick RTO, the reality is that most organizations are not prepared to meet a 24-hour RTO for email. Organizations that rely on clustering, replication, and tape backup have no protection from data corruption, configuration problems, Active Directory® corruption, Windows® viruses and malware, or other failures. When these strike, there is no option but to rebuild from tape – a process that can take as long as 48-72 hours.
For most email administrators, disaster recovery remains painful, expensive, and fraught with potential risks. IT managers should implement a solution that provides continual email service, full recovery, and low RTO.
Why Many Don’t Opt for Email Continuity
Email downtime can be almost completely eliminated, although many organizations for a variety of reasons have not yet implemented a capability to ensure virtually 100% uptime. Some may not realize that Exchange does not provide inherent failover capabilities, but for most the issue boils down to either a) lack of knowledge or experience with the significant downside that occurs because of downtime, or b) the solutions they have investigated are too costly.
Some options for providing email continuity can be cost-prohibitive, an issue to which some decision makers are particularly sensitive in a soft economy. For example, an organization can implement a redundant data center that mirrors its primary data center, uses redundant telecommunications links, and so forth. If there is a failure of the primary email system, the secondary data center can be brought online very quickly to provide continuity of the email system. However, this solution is generally very expensive to deploy and maintain.
Another option is to use backup appliances or servers to provide redundant capabilities for rapid failover in the event of a failure of the primary system. Ideally, these backup systems will be located in a geographically separate location in order to minimize the impact of downtime caused by natural disasters, power outages or problems that impact a large geographic area. While there are many good continuity systems available, they are not inexpensive, particularly for smaller organizations.
Further, a hosted continuity service offers a number of other advantages, including:
To avoid these consequences, an email continuity service should be deployed to ensure that email operates as close to 100% of the time as possible. While there are other continuity solutions available, a hosted email continuity service offers a number of important business advantages. These include significantly reduced capital expenditures, more predictable costs, minimal impacts on IT staff time, the ability to scale to very large numbers of users, and reduced system complexity.
Why Use MessageLabs Email Continuity Service?
With MessageLabs Email Continuity Service, the backup email system is permanently primed to come on stream at the flick of a switch that customers control. Hosted in top-tier data centers and easily administered from a single Web console, the service enables email to remain fully functional in spite of a full or partial system failure – and regardless of where users are located. Features of the system include:
MessageLabs, now a part of Symantec, offers industry-leading service level agreements for businesses and other organizations focused on availability and performance. MessageLabs, now a part of Symantec, extends 24/7/365 local security experts who can offer its customers service in the local language, becoming a part of their organization. MessageLabs, now a part of Symantec, believes its clients deserve nothing less than around the clock telephone, email and Web-based support. Wherever its customers do business, they can depend on MessageLabs Services global infrastructure of client service experts, engineers and support personnel to make sure their business is protected.
MessageLabs Services are delivered across a distributed, load-balanced infrastructure in 14 data centers in four continents, and supported 24/7/365 by multiple Network Operation Centers. The company’s hosted services offer a secure, robust and scalable system architecture designed for optimum performance, improved operating costs and comprehensive administration and reporting via a secure, intuitive Web-based portal.
To Learn More
For more information about the MessageLabs Email Continuity Service, call 866-460-0000 or visit: http://www.messagelabs.com/products/email/email_continuity
1 Enterprise Messaging Server Trends, 2008-2011; Osterman Research, Inc.