How one CIO escaped email attachment hell

Email 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.

Share

Increasingly large attachments can bloat your servers, clog your systems and slow user mailbox opening to a crawl, prompting help desk calls.

Worse, 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 email store gets, the more complicated your backup and restore jobs become. Sure, you can ask people nicely to stop sending large email attachments. But voluntary behaviour 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 realise something has 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' email 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, specialises 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. Blue-chip clients making these kinds of insurance deals certainly don't want to be bothered with email hassles, Danback says.

As of 2006, Integro's email 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.

"When you have successful people, they'll find a way to be successful," he says. For Danback, this meant some users were resorting to using Google's Gmail on both sides of the email exchange, in order to avoid client email system restrictions. "That's insecure, and it's not effective," Danback says. It's also widespread. In a recent Osterman Research study of midsize and large enterprises, 60% of people report they use personal email accounts to do business when the corporate system doesn't work, and 17% of people report they use these accounts for business every day.

Danback decided to address his company's problem in early 2007 by installing an email attachment appliance from Accellion.

Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs