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Why you should care about what email data gets migrated

9 Nov 2015 by Peter Kozak

Migrating on a budget can store up trouble
So you’ve decided to migrate your email ecosystem. There could be many reasons for that – improved security, easier management, cost reduction and much more – but do you really need to migrate everything?

Obviously you need to make sure your recent emails remain accessible in the new system. You’re probably also going to migrate recent archives. But what about all that really old stuff. Is it really needed? And if there are difficulties with some items during migration, is it OK just to junk them?

We’re email migration specialists, so we’re supposed to say how easy and fast it is to do everything. In practice, we know some of it’s pretty hard, particularly with old, neglected files and archives. So we can understand why some customers look at leaving these out of their migration projects in order to save immediate outlay.

But just suppose you need access to that old information. Several years down the line it’ll be even more costly and difficult to recover it to support a legal defense (if it can be recovered at all).

As if that wasn’t expensive enough, your regulators will be on your back and fining you. One of the most notable examples occurred when the US Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) fined Piper Jaffray & Co $700,000 for failing to retain approximately 4.3 million old emails. The company also failed to inform FINRA it had email retention and retrieval issues, which affected the firm’s ability to comply with email extraction requests from FINRA.

Piper Jaffray had been already been sanctioned for email retention failures eight years before, proving that some organisations never learn.

Migrate it, or tuck it away somewhere?
At Quadrotech our experience is that there are two types of customer.

The first type cares about migrating everything. Every scrap of potentially useful data that can be recovered, repaired, moved and archived safely matters to them.

These customers want detailed chain-of-custody reports illustrating what was migrated, which items were consolidated, de-duplicated, and assigned against individual users. They want to ensure that every last drop of data is wrung safely out of their legacy systems and verified before decommissioning. Not surprisingly, these customers are often found in highly-regulated industries like financial services, pharmaceuticals and government departments. Their projects are often compliance-driven.

Then there’s a second type of customer. They’re happy with the ‘best effort’ but don’t want to bust a gut over migration. The priority is simply to make sure email services remain available afterwards.

These customers may migrate the most recent archives too, but only the bare minimum they can get away with. Typically they have, perhaps, 2,000 users and are subject to only the lightest of compliance regimes.

It probably won’t surprise you if we say these customers are likely to be making a false economy.

What are the risks of not caring about your data?
Think about your emails for a moment. Whatever industry sector you’re in they will contain attachments and links to some pretty sensitive information: employee bank account details, financial forecasts and the CEO’s personal correspondence.

Typically you’ll need to migrate .PST files from your users’ local machines. That’s a process that in itself is often fraught with problems. Microsoft offers its own (chargeable) PST import service for Office 365, which can be useful for organisations with fewer than, say, 500 staff, but even that has its drawbacks. If you’re really happy with a ‘best effort’ (a one to two percent failure rate during migration using Microsoft’s service is not uncommon), this is the way to go. But a best effort is sometimes not good enough.

Taking another example, you may have old Enterprise Vault (EV) archives. (You do have a proper archiving system to support e-discovery, don’t you? Surely you don’t just keep everything on old backup disks. Or tapes?) It’s tempting to think it’s easier to leave that stuff where it is, as there’s no apparent cost in doing so. That’s particularly the case if you think it might be broken or corrupted anyway.

But if you ever hit a problem, the opposite is going to be true. The older the software and hardware, the more unsupportable it becomes and the more vulnerable that information is. In a few years you could spend a huge sum just getting it to work, let alone retrieving your copy of a specific email being cited by a plaintiff who’s decided to sue your business.

Choosing what to migrate is a risk management issue
Choosing what to move and what is an acceptable failure rate is a risk management challenge for any organization preparing an email migration project.

As with so many things, email migration decisions require a balancing act between cost and what is an acceptable level of risk. Our advice is that extracting, repairing and migrating everything possible is likely to be a wise investment in most scenarios.

In other words, concentrate on maintaining what you have and you won’t have to worry about supportability and unforeseen costs in the future.