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Why Email Must Operate 24/7 and How to Make This Happen PDF Print E-mail

An Osterman Research White Paper

Osterman Research, Inc.
P.O. Box 1058
Black Diamond, Washington 98010-1058

Phone: +1 253 630 5839
Fax: +1 866 842 3274
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Now part of Symantec

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:

  • Email server and infrastructure outages are invisible to the end user
  •  Little or no up-front deployment costs
  • Low total cost of ownership
  • Predictable operating costs
  • Virtually no IT staff investments to manage the capability
  • High levels of scalability
  • Reduced system complexity and administrative headaches

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 is Absolutely Critical

Email is the Primary Communications Tool

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:

  • The average user sends 40 emails and receives 96 emails on a typical workday, or one email sent or received every 3.5 minutes (assuming an eight-hour workday).
  • 74% of all communication sent by a typical user is sent through email.
  • 75% of users check their work-related email from home on weekdays, 74% do so on weekends and 52% do so while on vacation.
  • Users feel that 55% of the email they receive is either important or critical.
  • 92% of users feel that email is either important or critical in helping them get their work done.

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:

  • Email is ubiquitous in the workplace, at home and on mobile platforms.
  • Virtually all email systems can communicate with each other.
  • Email is already present and does not require a new system to be deployed.
  • Email requires little, if any, training, relieving the burden on IT to deploy new systems.

Maintaining Email Continuity is Vital

Microsoft Exchange™ is the dominant email platform used in the corporate world with an estimated 48% of the North American installed base in 2008, growing to 51% by 20102. However, despite the dominance of Exchange and its many robust features, it does not have continuity inherently built-in. Failover technology can be used to shift loads between systems, but this is not invisible to the end users of the system. Long-term, there are no built-in methods of providing alternate access to stored messages. However, end users store documents via Microsoft Exchange™ every day. Losing access to these documents could mean a loss in revenue for the company and productivity loss for individual users.

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:

  • Loss employee productivity

    Osterman Research has found that the average email user is about 25% less productive during an email outage. If we assume that the typical user experiences 10 hours of downtime each year, that means there is 2.5 hours of productive time lost for each user. For an organization of 1,000 users, 2,500 productive work hours are lost each year, or the equivalent of 1.2 personyears annually.
  • Lost revenue

    Email downtime can also result in lost revenue for an organization, particularly for organizations that use email for transaction processing, such as receiving orders, sending shipment notifications, and the like. For example, construction management firm Native American Sciences Corporation believes that a major email downtime incident cost the company a $75 million sale3. In addition to this quite serious impact of email downtime is thepotential to miss inquiries from potential customers, resulting in further lost sales opportunities.

    Related to loss of revenue (and often more damaging) is the potential for being out of compliance with government or legal mandates for preserving content. For example, an email system that goes down will prevent time-sensitive information from being communicated, such as email between a hospital and a lab. Or an email outage can result in emails not being archived according to statutory requirements, a particularly serious problem for financial services organizations.
  • Intangible and unidentifiable consequences

    Email downtime can also result in a variety of consequences that are difficult to quantify or identify. For example, an email system that is down will result in email messages that are bounced back to the sender. If the sender is a potential customer, he or she might assume that a company has gone out of business. A sender, not seeing the bounceback message, might also assume that his or her message was simply ignored. Or, the sender might assume that the organization does not have the technical expertise to manage an email system properly. Regardless of how a bounceback is interpreted, none of the results will be beneficial to an organization whose email system is down.

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:

  • A storage area network or other storage system has failed
  • Databases have become corrupted
  • Connectivity can fail as a result of storms or nearby construction work
  • Server hardware can fail

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.

Why Hosted Email Continuity Makes Sense

A hosted email continuity service that provides continuous availability of email can ensure that email stays up and running virtually 100% of the time, allowing an organization to avoid the lost productivity, lost revenue and other consequences arising from email outages. A hosted email continuity service helps an organization to avoid almost all of the disruption and productivity issues inherent with email downtime, it helps IT to avoid the manual maintenance headaches while providing users and IT with access to necessary data during outages, and it reduces system complexity and administrative headaches with a simple and secure portal interface for administrative functions and reporting.

Further, a hosted continuity service offers a number of other advantages, including:

  • The ability to shift capital expenses to operating expenses. This is particularly important during periods of economic uncertainty and flat or declining IT budgets, since this allows organizations to implement new capabilities with little or no up-front expenses. For larger organizations, the shift away from capital expenses might also provide tax advantages, as well.
  • A hosted continuity service greatly simplifies the duplicate costs of scaling and maintaining discrete systems.
  • IT costs are lower. Subscription to hosted services allows an organization to avoid the overhead associated with implementing and managing conventional software or hardware. This makes the overall system scalable at a far lower cost and enables predictable budget planning.
  • Costs are more predictable. Again, because the cost of a hosted service is normally static for the length of a contract period, per-seat and total costs are more predictable than can be the case for on-premise solutions.
  • A hosted email continuity service requires little or no investment by IT staff, freeing them for other tasks.
  • A hosted continuity service can save IT staff time because many typical implementation tasks associated with licensed software are eliminated. This makes deployment time shorter and easier than is the case with appliances or software-based project implementations. For example a hosted email continuity service can typically be implemented in one to three days.


Email is absolutely vital to the operation of most organizations and for the productivity of users who rely on email to get their work done. Consequently, when email is not available for any reason – even for as little as a few minutes – user productivity suffers, revenue can be lost, prospective customers can be alienated, and an organization’s reputation can be damaged.

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.

About MessageLabs Email Continuity Service

MessageLabs Email Continuity Service helps organizations to maximize email availability and guard against the disruption and data loss that can result from an email outage. The service provides organizations with an on-demand Email Failover system can be activated within 60 seconds when an outage occurs. This service allows email users to continue sending and receiving messages through Outlook, Lotus Notes, a Web browser, or BlackBerry devices – without interruption – guarding against data loss or bounced messages during an outage.

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:

  • Adaptable configuration options provide continuity for selected users or locations so that organizations can deploy high availability only to those users that truly require it.
  • Seamless and intuitive access through the use of an Outlook plug-in for users so that additional training is not required in order to use the system
  • Guards against data loss gap or bounced messages during outages, including historical retention of emails, resulting in a more professional image to the outside world and continuous access to content (particularly important for organizations that must archive content)
  • BlackBerry support to provide continuity for mobile users (generally the most critical users in most organizations)
  • Forensic data on emails, critical for e-discovery and regulatory compliance purposes.

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:

1 Enterprise Messaging Server Trends, 2008-2011; Osterman Research, Inc.
Messaging in the SMB Market, 2008-2011; Osterman Research, Inc.
Messaging, Web and IM Security Market Trends, 2007-2010; Osterman Research, Inc.
Enterprise Messaging Server Trends, 2007-2010; Osterman Research, Inc.
Enterprise Messaging Market Trends, 2006-2009; Osterman Research, Inc.
2 Enterprise Messaging Server Trends, 2008-2011; Osterman Research, Inc.

© 2009 Osterman Research, Inc.



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