During a routine business continuity review in mid-2008, Permanent General Assurance Corp. determined that its e-mail safeguards were insufficient. "Our disaster recovery strategy for 600 e-mail users was performing time-consuming daily and weekly tape backups," recalls Ernie Clapp, Permanent General's manager of network services. "We needed to modernize our strategy as well as update our archiving policies to address the new e-discovery landscape."
As a Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Exchange shop, the Nashville, Tenn.-based specialty auto insurer first considered in-house options. "After reviewing the cost of purchasing servers, software and bandwidth for distant replication, we decided insourcing didn't make sense," Clapp remarks.
Permanent General ($211 million in total assets) then investigated outsourcing vendors, narrowing the list of a dozen down to two. While both providers were comparable for features and cost, London-based Mimecast's software as a service unified e-mail management solution was selected for its end-user transparency/ease of use, according to Clapp. "Since Mimecast is a browser plug-in, no one needed to relearn how to use their e-mail," he explains. "They just opened up Outlook like they've always done before."
In addition to storage, recovery and archiving, the Mimecast solution also includes malware protection, Clapp notes. "We could either administer filters ourselves or explain a need to Mimecast for them to make the adjustments," he relates. "In other words, we retained control without needing to maintain or administer the system."
After inking a deal in late December 2008, deployment proceeded smoothly through March 2009. "We enabled journaling in Exchange and created permissions in our firewalls," Clapp says. "Then we simply pointed our Exchange records to Mimecast." Once all new e-mails were running through Mimecast, previously existing e-mails were ingested by the vendor from April through October 2009.
A Formal Retention Policy
Simultaneously, Clapp reports, Permanent General developed an e-mail retention policy to minimize e-discovery risks. "Ultimately, the biggest challenge of the entire initiative was gaining acceptance from senior management for a two-year e-mail-retention policy," reports Clapp. "Senior managers most frequently accessed e-mails older than two years, so we had to explain the legal benefits of purging old e-mails as well as the savings on storage and maintenance costs."
After listening to feedback and making policy adjustments, in August Clapp's team gave users 90 days to clean out their e-mail folders. "We also provided other mechanisms for storing important e-mails for longer than two years," Clapp points out. By November Mimecast was green-lighted to begin automatically deleting aged messages.
According to Clapp, there have been few glitches since. "The occasional hiccup has primarily resulted from a corrupted e-mail on our side and not with Mimecast," he reports. "Even so, it's no more than a couple e-mails a month, with incidents taking only seconds to clear. Using a different continuity system, a corrupted e-mail might not get noticed until it's too late to correct."
On the other hand, benefits are considerable. First, the insurer saved more than $100,000 on initial infrastructure investments alone, Clapp insists. "That's net, inclusive of our agreement with Mimecast," he asserts. "Plus, insourcing would have required increasing our infrastructure administrator head count from four to five to manage the continuity related chores."
Freed from arduous backup and restore routines, Clapp's team also is more productive, he says, adding that organizational risk is reduced by having a formal retention policy and related purging processes. Spam also has been noticeably reduced and, as yet, no virus outbreaks have occurred, Clapp continues. "In short, we had a cost-effective, robust archiving and business continuity system up and running in under three months where none existed before," he says.
Furthermore, the initiative's success has set a positive tone. "It's created a comfort level among executive management for cloud computing, opening doors for other projects," Clapp relates. "After all, we're not in the IT business -- we're in the insurance business. We don't always need to become experts in every technology. Instead, we can leverage the cloud if an in-house solution isn't a good fit for us."
Case Study Snapshot
Company: Permanent General Assurance Corp. (Nashville, Tenn.; $211 million in total assets).
Lines of Business: Specialty automobile.
Vendor/Technology: Mimecast (London) software-as-a-service unified e-mail management solution.
Challenge: Modernize e-mail archiving, continuity and disaster recovery capabilities.