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Like other large law firms, Houston’s Andrews Kurth has seen its e-mail volume increase dramatically over the past few years. In fact, over the course of the five years in which I have overseen information technology at the firm, I have witnessed the daily e-mail traffic grow from about 10,000 messages per week to more than 100,000 each day. E-mail has rapidly become an indispensable distribution system for our firm with its 400-plus attorneys. As e-mail has increasingly become a lifeline for improving productivity, communications and efficiency throughout our organization, it has fallen on my shoulders and those of our IT team to ensure that the system not fail — that e-mail continues to flow between our attorneys and clients in our eight domestic and international offices. The IT team took a multi-tiered approach to building a secure system for the Microsoft Exchange 2000 e-mail environment used by the firm. First, we examined the more traditional methods of e-mail backup by building a redundant onsite e-mail server in Houston and ensuring that each office’s e-mail is backed up. We also added a storage network with additional backups. For additional security, we also installed three tape backups. These initial steps put us in a strong position to glide unharmed through various e-mail failures caused by hardware issues, bad disk drives or server problems. But they did not completely protect the firm’s system from all potential e-mail outage threats. For example, with the e-mail backups onsite and tied directly into the Exchange server, we knew we were vulnerable to viruses that would likely copy themselves directly to — and thus corrupt — the backup servers. Also, in cases of natural or manmade disasters, such as hurricanes or major power outages, having the backup systems onsite with the primary e-mail system meant both were equally vulnerable. With that in mind, our IT team began researching options for a cost-effective backup e-mail system that would reside outside the firm at a trusted facility. In an outage, the offsite backup would be available instantaneously. That is, the system would automatically — and seamlessly — take over for the primary system. Additionally, we required a system that would be resistant to the viruses and worms that often target the Windows platform. We needed a technology that would be easy to deploy and maintain given that our 30-member IT department is fairly lean and not able to devote extensive resources to the threat of an outage. We examined a number of high-end systems that offered extensive services and provided remote hosting at disaster recovery class facilities, with redundant power systems and connections to the Internet. Most of these options were prohibitively expensive — indeed, they were as much as, if not more than, the cost of our primary e-mail system. More importantly, most of the applications would take a long time to implement, in some instances as long as six months, with planning, design, testing and maintenance by our IT staff. However, Austin-based MessageOne met our needs and was within our budget — a tenth the price of high-end systems or pennies per employee per month. MessageOne’s product –Emergency Messaging System (EMS) — ensured the uninterrupted flow of e-mail within our firm and between the firm and outside accounts. The e-mail backup can be activated in less than a minute for any reason. EMS is built on an alternative operating system — an open system that makes it resistant to the viruses, worms and poison pills that can incapacitate typical messaging infrastructures, particularly Microsoft Exchange. Microsoft is a favorite target among hackers and virus writers, who focus some 95 percent of their efforts on Microsoft products. More importantly, we saw great value in a built-in emergency notification system that allows our management team to communicate with employees during a disaster using several methods such as SMS, RIM, pager, personal e-mail and cell phones. After a quick and easy deployment that took less than 24 hours, our e-mail backup system was up and running at all eight of our firm’s offices. Unlike higher-end systems, there was no hardware to deploy and very little software to install. In fact, a MessageOne technician installed the product over the phone. No onsite visit was required for installation. Our pre-planning was good news for our staff in that a major hardware upgrade resulted in an e-mail outage for 500 users in one location. Because we had put diligent backup procedures in place for a situation such as this, we knew we could recover all e-mail history. However, this process would depend on several factors. Did we have the personnel and equipment available, including sufficient tape drives? Was the data store corrupted or clean? Moreover, we faced the immediate issue of not having e-mail service available for our attorneys and support staff right in the middle of a typically busy workday. This e-mail downtime could have potentially resulted in a tremendous loss in productivity for our lawyers and staff who would have been unable to send or receive critical business information. Additionally, the reputation of the firm was on the line, as our clients depend on us for their significant business issues. Our downtime quickly could have become their downtime as well. We made the decision to activate our backup e-mail system for affected staff by calling the round-the-clock MessageOne network operation center shortly after determining that our e-mail system was seriously affected. Within seconds, e-mail spooled by MessageOne began flowing into our user mailboxes and was easily accessible through a Web browser. Staff were brought online simultaneously and were able to send and receive e-mails. After our hardware upgrade was in place, I arranged the switch from MessageOne back to our primary server. The transition was smooth. We initiated a recovery application, prioritized the restoration order of e-mails and users, and hit the “go” button. All e-mail traffic during the activation was captured and restored to our messaging system within a few hours. Lynn McGuire is chief information officer at Andrews Kurth, a Houston-based law firm.

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