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Thinking outside the (in)box

Paul Wood | Sept. 22, 2009
Email outages occur whether youre prepared or not, and more often than not, it strikes when youre right in the midst of meeting a deadlineand youre stumped.

E-mail downtime can also result in lost revenue for an organisation, particularly for organisations that use e-mail for transaction processing, such as receiving orders and sending shipment notifications. For example, construction management firm Native American Sciences believes that a major e-mail downtime incident costs the company sales of US$75 million.

There is also the possibility of being out of compliance with government or legal mandates for preserving e-mail content. An e-mail system that goes down will prevent time-sensitive information from being communicated, such as e-mail between a hospital and a lab, or result in e-mails not being archived according to statutory requirements, an extremely serious problem for financial services organisations.

In addition to a cyber attack, natural disasters can also impact business continuity. As proven by the more recent earthquakes in China and the rising floodwaters in some parts of Europe and North America, the danger of natural disaster is very real. One can strike, unexpectedly, at any time of the year and in any geography and threaten even the most sound business.

Other e-mail-related problems include software reliability and hardware problems as well as viruses, spyware and spam. Microsoft Exchange Server, the most widely used e-mail system, experiences an average of 1.6 hours of unplanned downtime per month and 2.4 hours of planned downtime, according to the Radicati Group. The downtime is usually a result of commonplace hiccups, software patching, updates, and crashes. Without some form of fallback or continuity, such outages result in lost productivity. Moreover, without expensive duplication and redundancy, a single disk or power supply failure can bring down an entire e-mail system. Most server warranties have four-hour service-level agreements, which means that in the event of a hardware downtime, e-mail could be out for half a day.

E-mail continuity is a critical business process

According to MessageLabs Intelligence, one e-mail in every 170 contains a virus and 76.8 per cent of all e-mail is spam. Without spam and virus protection, organisations run the risk of falling victim to a debilitating malware attack or overspending on bandwidth and infrastructure. For every legitimate business e-mail an organisation receives, it also has to process three pieces of junk. Without a system that stops spam before it reaches the corporate network, organisations may be paying for bandwidth and e-mail infrastructure that is four times larger than it needs to be. Not to mention, spam greatly impacts employee productivity.

Finally, not only can e-mail pose technical risk to business, it can also pose legal risks. For example, employee misuse of the Internet could result in harassment or defamation issues. Similarly, disclosure of confidential information via spyware, eavesdropping or employee misconduct can also put a business at risk. Moreover, government regulations and corporate governance rules can require corporate compliance to avoid hefty fines.


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