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The pressure on storage managers to dig out specific content in archives keeps growing as more companies are finding themselves saddled with urgent “e-discovery” motions for digital data. If this process goes wrong, it could cost your company millions and the boss could go to jail (and more importantly, you will likely lose your job). However, a product that combines storage savvy with search technology may be a solution that fits the enterprise storage workflow.

Extending its storage networking search technology to tape archives, Index Engines on Sept. 25 introduced its Offline eDiscovery appliance. According to the company, the device supports a wide range of tape and data archival formats including EMC’s Legato, IBM’s Tivoli Storage Manager and Symantec’s Veritas.

According to Jim McGann, Index Engines’ vice president of marketing, enterprise IT departments can quickly integrate the appliance into existing backup infrastructure.

“You have a tape that’s sitting in Iron Mountain, take that content and dump it directly into the tape indexing appliance. It will index all the content on that tape so you can search on it and find an e-mail that was sent by Joe Smith with the word ‘confidential’ in the subject line. And all within a discovery time frame.”

The device can index in near real time—or the time it takes the tape drive to read the data, he said. The appliance reads the files directly from the tape cartridges without requiring the launching of the backup application, e-mail application or system environment.

“What [managers] have to do today to find what’s on the tapes is to re-create that environment: put up that old version of Exchange, [versions] 5.0 or 5.5, reinstall the software that was used to back it up—it could be an old version of Tivoli or Legato—and then get the files online and then finally start the discovery process. [Index Engines Offline eDiscovery] can index them directly. It understands the format of the backup software and the e-mail content,” McGann said.

However, the entry cost may be steep for some. The appliance starts at $29,500 for an index of 2 million objects and scales upward depending on the size of the archive.

Still, the cost from dealing with an e-discovery motion can be much more. And failing to provide the data can drive the bill into the millions.

In an August Baseline case study that described the discovery process for a sexual harassment suit brought against an investment bank, the financial institution spent months searching through online and archived e-mail and messaging content as well as 180 backup tapes. Just the cost to recover the data came to almost $500,000.

And then there’s the publicized 2002 case of an employee who sued UBS Warburg for sexual harassment and the company couldn’t produce backup tapes for data that had been deleted. Since the data wasn’t produced in court, the judge instructed the jury to count the missing data as being unfavorable to Warburg. The jury awarded the plaintiff $29 million, which after appeals was later settled out of court, certainly for a lower but still killer amount.

In addition, the Baseline article pointed to a forthcoming Dec. 1 change to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to accommodate electronic discovery. The updated rules require companies (really the lawyers, but same difference) to disclose all sources of electronic information relevant to a case, such as IM, e-mail and even records on smart phones. The rule includes data that is not “reasonably accessible” because it’s tough to pull out, such as those forgotten backup tapes.

And being costly or hard to recover isn’t really a good answer, according to the rules amendments. Your files are your files, after all, and you should know where your data is and what it’s all about.

Click here to read more of Baseline’s coverage of legal risks around e-mail archives and electronic discovery.

It all reminds me of a nontechnical pointy-haired boss I worked for ages ago. She would ask us if something was technically “possible,” and our group would dig through the thesaurus to find enough words to explain why such a course wasn’t practical or could be done in a better, less costly, less painful and less time-consuming way. Or was unnecessary.

But the decision would often fall back to the difference between possible and impossible, the latter choice being often tough to defend. Things usually are possible, even if they require a miracle to accomplish. Or in the case of these discovery motions, a million or so bucks.

Next Page: Other e-discovery solutions.

Of course, there are many e-discovery solutions being offered in the market, some from vertical market developers and others from larger storage system and backup vendors. For example, EMC’s eDiscovery Solution, which combines EmailXtender and some Documentum wares; Mimosa Systems’ NearPoint e-mail archive software; Orchestria’s Active Policy Management; and Symantec’s Enterprise Vault Discovery Accelerator all come to mind.

Read more here about compliance issues and products.

However, most solutions on the market focus on the management and lifecycle for current e-mail and online messages. A couple of differences with Index Engines’ approach struck me.

First, instead of handling the current message store, the Index Engines product targets old archives found on tape. Now, the current messages are very important, for sure, but the old, dusty tapes hold the very files that will be the toughest to handle and will be the most expensive to dig through in a discovery motion.

And it never fails that the file you want is on the very last tape in the stack.

Even better, the Offline eDiscovery system is an appliance and it sounds easy to set up and run. It’s a turnkey approach that requires the appliance, the tape drive and the tapes. It’s self-contained.

The installation and processing of these pages is a special project, but one that won’t kill your everyday workflow.

Afterward, the real chore becomes one of feeding it the tapes. Certainly, you can find someone in your organization who knows the front side of a cart from the back and who has the patience to keep feeding the beast until the job is done?

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