by Timothy M. Chester

Tips on Relieving Overloaded E-Mail Systems While Saving Money

Apr 30, 20085 mins
NetworkingRisk Management

Pepperdine University's CIO shares advice on how he implemented an e-mail alternative solution that cut costs, saved storage resources and addressed security problems.

For nearly all businesses, teamwork and collaboration are critical elements for success. This includes complex networks that provide the ability to share information in a timely manner with those around the world—both inside and outside an organization.

Sharing information digitally, often in the form of large documents, media files or data files, is critical. There are myriad examples of how collaborative teams rely on the fast and efficient sharing of information. Because e-mail is easy to use and familiar to most people, it is the obvious choice for sharing files with others, making it the de facto “content management system” for communications. However, sharing files through e-mail has several downsides, including bandwidth and storage constraints and increasing storage costs as the volume and sheer size of files being exchanged continue to increase. (Also read Five Questions to Ask Security Appliance Vendors.)

As other organizations with large e-mail usage have done, Pepperdine University instituted file size limits for the attachments passing through the university e-mail system. Unfortunately, the limits we imposed often weren’t large enough to accommodate users’ needs.

As a result, we noticed e-mail users turning to free e-mail services from Microsoft, Yahoo and Google; trying unsecure, “clunky” and overly technical FTP services; mailing CDs or thumb drives; and even using social networks such as Facebook and MySpace as a means to share information. All of these file-exchange alternatives present inherent security problems and have limited capabilities. (Also read I’m violating our corporate email policy…and I love it!.)

Although much of what is being sent is “normal content” that doesn’t have to be protected, there are instances where security is an issue, as with financial information or personal data. Because we have the need to protect restricted and confidential information as it is transmitted, security is a criterion that can’t be overlooked.

Given the concerns about e-mail growth and the related increase in storage costs, security for certain documents, and the simple need for business agility, the IT department began to look for a secure file transfer solution that would be easy to use and cost-effective while at the same time providing relief for the over-burdened e-mail system.

We initially learned about the Accellion solution through an article we read in CIO magazine, and later spoke with some folks who used the product. The Accellion solution seemed like a good way for people to use the technology they know best—e-mail—yet still collaborate on sending large amounts of files quickly and easily without exposing us to security risks.

We began testing the Accellion Secure File Transfer Solution in a pilot rollout to a small group of staff members. They sent files of all sizes, including files as large as 3GB to 5GB. After realizing the numerous benefits we could achieve using the Accellion solution, we expanded the rollout campuswide to all faculty, staff and students.

Today we have substantially reduced the impact large file transfers have on our network while making it much easier for our students, faculty and staff to collaborate in a highly secure manner with each other as well as with those outside of the university network.

From an IT perspective, we are able to reduce information security risks by providing an easy to use way to encrypt sensitive documents and ensure that only authorized recipients can download the files. Additionally, we have reduced our IT costs by moving away from having our files stored in perpetuity in an e-mail inbox. The Accellion solution gives us a low cost device that has good, recyclable disk storage. We have adopted a 60-day expiration policy for attachments, which solves 99.5 percent of our needs. Our old method of using e-mail attachments had associated costs with enterprise storage on a storage area network, multiple backups over 30 and 60 days according to our backup profile, and writing to tape for disaster recovery. The Accellion solution has replaced those storage needs, and the IT department can now reallocate its budget to other areas.

I expect to see complete return on our investment in a couple of years, if not sooner. There are, of course, additional costs savings associated with the reduction in shipping and courier services, which accelerates the payback period, and the obvious environmental benefits, such as reduced CO2 emissions, are priceless.

As the CIO, I am very pragmatic and skeptical of ads and articles about whether or not something is really as good as it sounds. Deploying the Accellion solution has truly paid off in ways even I never thought were possible.

Timothy M. Chester is Chief Information Officer at Pepperdine University, where he is responsible for aligning campus technology services and initiatives with the teaching, research and administrative functions of the university. He is a recognized authority in the use of XML to integrate client-server and Web-based systems with mainframe systems and other nonrelational data sources. His work has been profiled in numerous leading industry publications.