Email Outages: A Business Reality

Updated: April 30, 2009

Like it or not, email outages are a business reality. A recent survey revealed that, despite advances in data-backup , -archiving and -protection technology, companies of all sizes remain vulnerable to costly and damaging email outages. In fact, data from a recent Dell MessageOne survey demonstrated that in any given 12-month time period, there is a 75 percent likelihood of an unplanned email outage and a 14 percent likelihood of a planned email outage for any given company.

The length of email outages in the companies surveyed ranged from a minimum of two minutes to a maximum of 120 hours, with the average outage lasting 32.1 hours. Although the majority of the outages lasted less than 24 hours, 43 percent of them lasted longer than 24 hours, a length of time that can lead to significant business disruption and damage. The causes for these outages ranged from storage-area-network failures and losses in network access to database corruption and viruses . And there's no discounting the damages, from disgruntled customers to lost revenue.

Fortunately, companies' options for protecting their email services are expanding. Here are a just handful of measures that businesses can take to safeguard against unforeseen email outages.

File and Database Replication/Clustering

According to Vince Londini, a research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, a company can greatly "speed up its recovery process" in the event of an email outage by creating and maintaining multiple copies of the same databases or files. That's because in most cases of database replication, one database server maintains the master copy of the database while additional servers maintain slave copies. Clustering can also prove helpful, said Londini. For example, if a company's email server in a cluster stops working, a process called failover ensures that the workload is automatically transferred to another functioning server in the cluster. The result: continuous availability of applications and data.

Outsourcing Email Services

Gartner Inc. estimates that 80 percent of enterprises with fewer than 300 employees could save money by outsourcing email . But there are incentives other than cost savings that prompt companies to farm out their email services to a third party. Consider this: Outsourcers boast the technical means, the manpower and the financial motives for delivering the greatest system reliability possible — especially when there's an SLA (service-level agreement) on the table. If, however, outsourcing your company's entire email system still makes you nervous, Londini recommends that you ask yourself "how much hassle you want to go through, how much money you want to spend and how much staff you want to dedicate to administering an email system in house." The answer may surprise you.

Dell MessageOne

Dell's MessageOne EMS Email Continuity solution is an on-demand, Linux-based standby email system. Since EMS Email Continuity has no dependencies on a company's IT environment, it ensures that an organization always has access to email without downtime or data loss — regardless of what happens to local systems, staff or infrastructure.

Despite these protective measures, Londini pointed out that not all companies need to develop a comprehensive email-outage strategy. After all, some businesses can survive the odd hour of downtime without suffering enormous losses. "There are a host of options you can employ to make sure your email never goes down," said Londini. "But those come at a price. So you have to ask yourself if it's really that critical to be without email for three or four hours."

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