How One CIO Escaped E-Mail Attachment Hell

The CIO at an insurance company found a network appliance to help sift through chunky attachments before they reach end-users.

By Laurianne McLaughlin
Mon, July 02, 2007

CIOE-mail attachments have become a staccato series of shooting pains for many a CIO. Today's attachments —packed with images, presentations, PDFs, video clips and other space gluttons —keep getting bigger, with no end in sight. They can bloat your servers, clog your systems and slow user mailbox opening to a crawl (prompting help desk calls).

Worse, large attachments can make messages that your users have sent bounce back, when clients set up policies to block messages larger than a certain size, say 10MB. (In other words, a limit low enough to block a crucial marketing presentation.) Also, the bigger your e-mail store gets, the more complicated your backup and restore jobs become. Sure, you can ask people nicely to stop sending large e-mail attachments. But voluntary behavior change requests usually fall flat, and besides, that solution doesn’t address the client issue, says Fred Danback, CIO of Integro Insurance Brokers. Sooner or later, he says, you realize something's gotta give.

Danback ended up addressing the problem by inserting an appliance in his network to act like a big colander to catch large attachments before they reached end-users' e-mail boxes. But it took some time to reach this decision, including attempts to get end-users to give up such large files.

"We even asked pretty please with sugar on it," says Danback, "but compliance is never voluntary." Integro, a New York-based insurance brokerage firm founded in 2005, specializes in big clients with complex risks, and competes with the likes of Marsh and Aon. It has grown quickly, winning some 250 clients including General Electric and Unisys. (The private company's CEO recently told Risk & Insurance magazine that he aims to double the $50 million firm's revenue in 2007.) Blue-chip clients making these kinds of insurance deals certainly don’t want to be bothered with e-mail hassles, Danback says.

As of 2006, Integro's e-mail system, supporting some 400 users in five countries, was groaning under weighty attachments. "There's a lot of document transfer that takes place. We may get CAD drawings, MPEG files, technical specifications, it runs the gamut," Danback says. Not only was his internal system being taxed, but also, his users were bumping up against problems with clients receiving their messages, since many firms limit attachment sizes, to prevent problems like denial-of-service attacks, Danback says.

"Then you get the help desk call," he says. "You had to find ways around it, but it was inconvenient." Also, there's the issue of people taking matters into their own hands.

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