With use of Virginia’s statewide email system growing, state IT leaders are using the cloud to meet mounting archiving and e-discovery demands.

In the past year, Virginia’s enterprise email system has achieved a critical mass of state agency users, said state CIO Sam Nixon, driving the need for a comprehensive archiving and e-discovery solution to handle years of email files.

Nixon said the new solution will help agencies cope with requests for state information made via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). “From a policy perspective, it’s important that we provided a business solution to agencies that would help facilitate more rapid responses when those requests come in,” he said.

The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) adopted Symantec’s Enterprise Vault.cloud (EV.Cloud) hosted solution for unlimited storage capacity. Participating state agencies archive their old emails on Symantec’s servers, freeing up Virginia’s IT resources and giving employees a searchable cloud database.

The state began using EV.Cloud in early 2012. About 700 email accounts were active on the solution as of June, so VITA has a long way to go. The agency is marketing the service through newsletters and by holding demonstrations.

Saving Time and Money

EV.Cloud is integrated with Microsoft Outlook, so employees use the system from within their standard inbox once they provide a user name and password. No additional hardware or software is required, and users can access the cloud via supported Web browsers, smartphones and tablets.

The tool’s search capabilities can be a lifesaver for agencies that handle large volumes of email. Employees perform searches in the interface, and EV.Cloud retrieves results from archives, live emails and folders quickly: It’s possible to receive thousands of results in seconds from a search of more than 1 million messages. Users can refine their search by sender, date, folder and message attachment type, and they can save searches for later application.

“It has a better search capability than Outlook does organically, so the FOIA requests and the legal holds are much quicker,” said Chad Wirz, VITA’s senior service delivery manager.

The EV.Cloud migration will likely ease e-discovery headaches that agencies have endured over the years. Traditional storage methods like backup tapes complicated Virginia’s efforts to retrieve information when answering legal requests.

“Historically we’ve had to restore data from tapes to fulfill those requests,” Wirz said, “and that can be cumbersome.”

When tapes are involved, an agency must work with data center staff who have specialized knowledge, but the new archive eliminates this hurdle. “With the hosted email archiving solution, agencies are able to fulfill those requests themselves,” he said. “You are not dependent upon a whole group of people to get something done.”

Agencies also pay less to archive email in the EV.Cloud than they would for VITA’s in-house email storage, according to state officials.

Solving Problems

According to the Radicati Group, the average corporate email user consumed more than 10.4 MB of email storage per day in 2011, tripling the median volume of email archiving requirements in four years. The company also projects that email traffic will grow to 507 billion a day by 2013.

VITA saw this email juggernaut heading its way years ago and started planning how to deploy an email archiving tool. “It took us a little while to put all of the contractual pieces together and come up with a technical approach,” Nixon said, “but once we did, the pieces fell in place fairly quickly.”

Northrop Grumman, which has been under contract with Virginia to provide IT infrastructure services since 2005, secured the deal with Symantec. Wirz said the cost of the cloud-based solution amounts to $5.62 a month per user.

But the archive may not be best for agencies that don’t field many legal requests or send and receive mountains of email messages.

“The mainline agencies account for about 80 percent of the IT infrastructure spend,” Nixon said. “They’re the ones that really have more of a need than other agencies. There certainly are agencies that probably don’t really need to do archiving, at least for purposes of FOIA and e-discovery requests.”

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.