Winemaker Stores No E-Mail Beyond Its Time

Foster's Wine Estates America's new e-mail management system provides the company with archiving to improve storage and access as well as e-discovery to help comply with regulatory audits.

May 17, 2006

9 Min Read
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The IT group at Foster's Wine Estates Americas once spent three days recovering an executive's e-mail inbox after an administrative assistant inadvertently wiped it out. IT restored most of the inbox from tape--but it could not recover all the messages.

IT execs knew that incident was just a taste of things to come for Foster's if it didn't do something about its e-mail storage. The U.S. division of the Australia-based Foster's Wine Estates had no archival strategy for its e-mail and only backup stores of tape and, more recently, disk. So, late last year, Foster's installed an e-mail management system from Mimosa Systems that handles archiving, discovery and recovery for its Microsoft Exchange 2003 Server mail architecture. "E-mail is now a critical application here, so it requires a 48-hour recovery in the event of a disaster," says Brad Gates, director of IT infrastructure for the $600 million Napa, Calif.-based company, which owns and operates several major U.S. wineries such as Beringer's and Meridian.

Messaging United

The Mimosa Systems' NearPoint installation was timely. The company faced increasing regulatory and legal pressures to be able to access e-mail quickly and comprehensively (see "The Hard Sell" below). IT used to spend days manually sifting through e-mail, and with no guarantee they'd find what they needed. "Now we can put in our search criteria and search every mailbox," Gates says.

In addition, Foster's had recently deployed Cisco Systems' Unity Unified Messaging architecture with its voice-over-IP system. With voicemail and fax messages going to Exchange inboxes, users were quickly filling their 125-MB mailbox quota, so Foster's had been forced to use precious (and pricey) SAN space on its EMC CX500 storage system for excess mail. "We saw our amount of disk space in Exchange expanding with unified messaging, so that was a selling point for the e-mail management project," Gates says.

E-mail is the main vehicle for much of the winemaker's sales and marketing. Foster's brand sales and marketing representatives rely heavily on e-mail for communicating the company's sales programs and distributing promotional materials to customers and distributors. Its consumer sales and marketing team takes orders and coordinates shipments by e-mail.

Nearly half of Foster's sales reps, and most company executives, use RIM BlackBerrys for e-mail. BlackBerry users had been limited in their e-mail searches with Microsoft Outlook, which lets you search only one Outlook Personal Folders (PST) file at a time. Salespeople needed quick access to client-related e-mail, and the Mimosa NearPoint app lets them search their inboxes and sent folders by specific days, for example, and search multiple mailboxes simultaneously. Users also can archive their e-mail and more easily search for or recover (but not delete) their messages. One catch in searching voicemail messages with both Outlook and NearPoint, though: You can't search a voicemail WAV file by content, just by caller ID, Gates says.

A Dell AX100i iSCSI appliance houses the NearPoint e-mail archive on low-cost ATA disks. Foster's is using only about 40 percent of the 4 GB of disk space allocated to NearPoint, but the company plans to spin messages that are seven years or older to tape when disk space gets tight, Gates says.Foster's put its new e-mail recovery function to the test earlier this year when users were suddenly unable to connect to the Exchange database and BlackBerry users stopped receiving e-mail. Two mail stores in its primary Exchange server had become corrupted: Turns out the company's McAfee VirusScan application had mistaken the Exchange log file as a virus and deleted it. "Our options were to restore from our backups, which would take a long time, or use NearPoint," recalls Gates. With help from technicians at Mimosa Systems, Foster's restored all but the e-mail that caused the problem from the NearPoint server within three hours.

Archiving Uncorked

Foster's experience with archiving hasn't been all wine and roses; it had to learn a few things about the management app the hard way. NearPoint doesn't quite sync with the company's hundreds of BlackBerry devices, for instance. Neither the BlackBerry Enterprise Server nor the Exchange server is "aware" of NearPoint, so a message moved off the Exchange server and onto the archive will still show up on the BlackBerry. "But if you tried to open, forward or reply to it from your BlackBerry, you get an error message," Gates says. However, this hasn't been critical for Foster's because employees tend to use their BlackBerrys to keep up with new mail rather than dig for old messages.

And non-BlackBerry users can't access PST files predating Mimosa that are located on client PCs. The potential nightmare of having to sift through these backup files for legal discovery or regulatory audits or being unable to access some messages at all has gotten the attention of Foster's legal department. So the company plans to purchase NearPoint's PST Crawler software that gets PST files off PCs and into the e-mail archive.

Another glitch with the new e-mail management system occurred during Foster's server backups. The company's Veritas NetBackup system locks the files it's saving, so NearPoint can't grab the log file being saved. The first time this happened NearPoint swamped the IT staff with messages saying it couldn't retrieve the log file, Gates says. He and his team had to reconfigure it to notify them less frequently.Foster's e-mail management strategy, meanwhile, is part of the bigger ILM (information lifecycle management) picture, Gates says. "Our plan is to eventually remove mailbox size restrictions and have NearPoint manage the size of our Exchange databases," Gates says.

That will let IT better manage disk space in Exchange and its file servers, which it currently handles by tweaking the archive and "stubbing" off file attachments as needed. The 125-MB limit basically forced its users to create large PSTs and then store them on the network disk or their personal disk, he says. "Once users get more accustomed to NearPoint, we'll take away the ability to create PSTs," Gates says. "That way we can ensure we aren't using file server space for PST storage."

[15 minutes]

Brad Gates
Foster's Wine Estates Americas, Napa, Calif.

Brad Gates, 38, is director of IT infrastructure for Foster's Wine Estates Americas in Napa, Calif., and oversees the winemaker's network and server infrastructure, including its Microsoft Exchange environment. He's been in IT for 12 years and with Foster's for five years.Bad Bill-Brad Gates jokes: "Almost every time someone finds out my last name."

Main cause of insomnia: "Worrying about earthquakes."

E-mail management headaches: "They've evolved--first it was spam, then it was disk space and size limits, and now it's user administration."

Why e-mail management doesn't get much respect: "E-mail hasn't been a critical application as long as ERP and CRM systems have."

Significance of e-mail: "E-mail is how we collaborate and communicate as part of a global company. Unified messaging, calendars, contacts, workflow automation and mobile devices all rely on our e-mail being available."Mixing it up: "Some parts of the business rely heavily on technology--inventory and warehouse management, supply-chain planning, finance and marketing--while others don't rely on much technology at all, like vineyard management and winemaking. There's a wide difference in peoples' experience and comfort with technology, too."

Subject that makes Gates rant: "IT security policies."

Worst day at work: "We had a power outage one night and all the servers went down. The drive into the office to see what was going on seemed to take twice as long as I worried about what I would find. Once power was restored, I stayed until 2 a.m. restarting servers. When I was done, I left and locked my keys in the server room and had to call an employee to come down and let me in to get them."

Team: "Oakland Raiders."

Hangout: "The server room."Wheels: "Chevy TrailBlazer--lots of room."

After hours: "Golf."

In Gates' car CD player right now: "AC/DC and disco."

Must-see TV: "The Superbowl."

Comfort food: "Chocolate."White wine or red: "Both, please."

Tasting advice: "Wine isn't as confusing as some people think. Just drink what you like."

The Hardsell

When the corporate legal eagles back an IT project proposal, more than likely that project will be a go. Foster's Wine Estates Americas' legal department's support for an e-mail management system with e-discovery certainly helped Brad Gates and his IT team seal the deal when it came time to sell the project to company executives last fall.

E-discovery capabilities were crucial because Foster's is subject to regulatory audits by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau about every 10 years. Foster's must also make regular filings with antitrust agencies in states where its ships its wines and undergo internal audits from its human relations department. "We're in a heavily regulated industry and legal didn't want us to be fined because we couldn't do e-discovery," says Gates, director of IT infrastructure for the company.Foster's spent about $200,000 on the Mimosa Systems' Mimosa NearPoint software and iSCSI SAN equipment for the project. "Based on what could happen if we got sued and couldn't comply with discovery, that was cheap," says Gates, who manages an annual budget of $3 million for the company's network and server infrastructure. (Foster's application-development budget for things like its ERP architecture is separate and not under Gates' purview.)

The fact that the company wouldn't incur any major maintenance costs up front for the new system didn't hurt, either. Future maintenance costs for more disk space and new servers, for instance, will be covered primarily by the same capital budget, Gates says. "With server virtualization and ILM, I've been able to maintain more [IT projects] within the same [capital] budget."

The e-mail management project was never really in danger of being derailed because company execs are well aware of how e-mail has become critical for Foster's, Gates adds. "We didn't get any pushback of 'Why do you need to spend money on e-mail? It's just e-mail.' Everyone here realizes how important e-mail is."

Meanwhile, Gates is gearing up for his next big pitch: disaster recovery. The company's location in the earthquake-prone Northern California region has prompted it to plan a disaster-recovery site outside the state. Gates estimates it will cost about $5,000 per month to house a mirrored network and systems off site, plus another $70,000 to $80,000 in equipment costs for the necessary redundant e-mail and other app servers. "We haven't gotten the funding for this yet," he says.

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