Pete Kardiasmenos, systems architect at SBLI USA, the New York City-based insurance company, manages the firm's Exchange servers and gets involved with "anything relating to email." His biggest issue: users turning to external, free email systems, such as Yahoo and Gmail, to circumvent the company's storage limits.
"They don't have bad intentions. They want to know why they're limited to 500 megabytes when Gmail is unlimited. It's because the more space you have, the more time backup takes, the more complicated disaster recovery is. We have to constantly communicate our policies," he says. Like a lot of enterprise organizations, SBLI USA has had to block the use of public email systems from company-owned computers as a security measure, and limit space in Exchange for most users because of storage cost issues.
Even then, he says, email is still a headache for the company. "People keep email in their inbox the same way they keep files on their desktop, to keep them handy. They send the same file back and forth as an attachment until you have 10 versions that you have to store."
For Oakland County's Bertolini, it's the management that's the challenge -- managing passwords, and managing Outlook's .pst backup files when they get too big. At least, he says, when those files get too large, they start to generate error messages. "We find out about it when [users] have a problem," sighs Bertolini.
"In one case, we discovered thousands of emails dating back to 2001," Bertolini relates. "And the real problem is that most of them dealt with trivia like meeting for lunch. There's a cost to maintaining and managing email over time."
The largest burden for IT, Radicati says, is simply uptime. "The overriding concern for IT is making sure that it's up and running and available," she says.
Email in the cloud
So what's IT supposed to do? Certainly, cloud is one of several ways to view email differently. Radicati is highly optimistic about email in the cloud. "It's absolutely the way to go," she says. "A lot of cloud-based email providers have archiving and compliance capabilities in place, and if you want more features, you can purchase them as an additional capability."
In Oakland County, Bertolini is investigating using Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud. "There's still a cost associated with storage, but part of our ROI analysis will be comparing the cost of storage in the cloud versus letting people keep more email," he says, adding that he's worried that if "you give them more storage, they will fill it up."
But he also sees other advantages. "If I can host email externally and still have the safety and security the county government needs, I can save millions in the long term. We'd need two to three people to manage Microsoft Exchange, but if I go to the cloud, I don't need those people. And in three or four years, I'm not replacing my mail servers."
Still, questions remain. "A lot of IT departments are investigating moving email to the cloud," Radicati says, "but there is still concern about whether it will be private enough, secure enough, and reliable enough."
Merging communications tools
Like many technologies IT has to deal with, email's boundaries are expanding, which means IT needs to begin thinking about email less as a silo and more as one component of a multi-modal communications system.
Bertolini notes that the new generation of employees clamors for instant messaging -- and he's not against it. "They use it to collaborate more. When they have chat, they can get things done in realtime." He's also looking at more videoconferencing, first on a one-to-one basis from desktop to desktop, and then from conference room to conference room, and then into a multipoint video arraignment system for the public safety team, because it saves having to transport the county's prisoners among facilities.