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Nov 182012

The debate about how to find any email in the shortest time possible wages on just as fiercely today as it did years ago when the terms filer and piler were first coined. When you add in to the mix an email archiving solution like Symantec Enterprise Vault, that can only add to the complexity of the discussions which often times take place.

What is a filer?


A filer is categorised as an email user who creates a multitude of folders in their mailbox usually a number of levels of deep, giving a nested effect. They then file away into those folders every email that remains in their mailbox after the deletion-storm. They do this either manually, or using rules to help automate the process (eg all mails from a particular distribution list go to a specific folder) or many people use a combination of manual and automated.

I’m a filer! Well, I think I am.

Usually when I try to find an email I start off by going to ‘roughly’ the right folder.. and starting my search there. Sometimes I find the item, sometimes I need to think of a different folder that the mail might have ended up in (for those pesky mails covering 2-3 areas of my filing). I repeat this process, sometimes jumping to completely the wrong folders, before (usually) finding the item I want.

What is a piler?


A piler is someone who just leaves everything in the Inbox…

.. sometimes it’s a different folder though, but mostly they just leave it as it arrives.

There are no automated rules here, except perhaps for a few which actually DELETE mail, rather than just leaving it alone.

Life is simpler as a piler. You search your inbox, as that (and sent items) is pretty much all there is. Search tools are the primary friend of a piler.


Are the users in my organisation Type A, or Type B?

I don’t think many organisations are going to have things as ‘simple’ as having every single employee either a piler or a filer. Organisations are going to have a mixture of types of people. This makes life difficult for end-user training, and Enterprise Vault archiving as we’ll see below.

How does Enterprise Vault complicate things?

With the introduction of Enterprise Vault in to an environment there is obviously and impact on people’s workflow. Some of this is governed by what administrators decide to do with regards to:

Shortcuts and Shortcut Content

When items are archived, are shortcuts created at all? Or is archived content by it’s nature ‘old’ mails which probably aren’t needed all that often, and therefore there is no point in creating shortcuts (which add to the clutter in the users mailbox). If shortcuts are created, what is the content of those shortcuts? Is it the whole message body? Is it just the first few hundred, or few thousand characters. What happens to attachments?

All these nuances of the archiving policy affect pilers and filers in different ways.

Archiving Strategy

In the early days of Enterprise Vault the choice of archiving strategy for email was to have either age based, or quota based. Age based, as the phrase sounds, means that items beyond a certain age are archived. Enterprise Vault has several enhancements of that sort of simple model where you can additionally specify that below a certain shouldn’t be archived, archiving should start with items above a particular size, and so on. Quota based archiving allows archiving to take a different course. The aim with quota based archiving is to try and keep each end-users mailbox below the Exchange quota limits for that particular mailbox.

In recent versions of Enterprise Vault you can go one step further and easily have age AND quota based archiving. This gives the best of both worlds where normally old(er) items are archived, but in addition items will be continued to be archived if necessary in order to get and keep a mailbox under the Exchange quota.

Of the three variations of archiving strategy it can be argued that quota related archiving may certainly affect filers and pilers more significantly. It can be the case where even quite young items have been archived, potentially leading to difficulties for both types of email user.

How can I fix this?

The trick with both of these components of email archiving policy is to make sure that both pilers and filers are involved (or at least considered) throughout the design of the archiving policy. Consider the impact of changing the policy so that items older than 60 days are archived versus the policy where items over 120 days are archived. Administrators should step through each aspect, and in some cases each combination of possibilities to determine the best fit for their administrative needs AND their end-user community.

Enterprise Vault also has a few tricks up its sleeve…

How does Enterprise Vault solve the problem?

Enterprise Vault is a world class email archiving product, and it’s not just as simple as storing these items away from the Exchange Server any longer. It’s all about discovery of those items. This holds true for legal people doing electronic discovery of items for legal reasons, right down to the regular-Joe end-user who is trying to find ‘That project related email he sent to Susan a few months ago’.


Search integrated in to Outlook, as well as Archive Explorer are the traditional mechanisms for finding archived items. If the archiving policy is purely aged based, and users know that those date triggers are, they quickly learn that if it’s a ‘few months old’ it’ll be in their archived items, and they can use either of these two tools to find items very quickly.

Some of the more savvy-users will venture in to ‘Browser Search’ which allows somewhat more complex searching, with the ability to specify things in different parts of an email, such as sender, recipient, subject, message body, number of attachments. ‘Advanced Browser Search’ for those power-users adds even more possibilities in to the mix with many more options available for searching.

In the ‘new world order’ of Outlook 2010 and Windows 7, which is strong becoming a benchmark environment to validate experiences on, then the contender there, and keeping it ‘all in Outlook’ is the ability to search Virtual Vault and / or Vault Cache. Of course this only works within Outlook, none of the web applications have an interface in to Virtual Vault or Vault Cache, but, using regular old Outlook can lead to very powerful searching. On top of that is the ability (using Vault Cache) to have this searching capability for the users who are on the road. That’s right, searching, inside Outlook using Vault Cache with no connection to Exchange or Enterprise Vault.

This powerful searching is brought to users via Windows Search (formerly Windows Desktop Search) and tight integration with both Outlook, Vault Cache and Virtual Vault. Users can search for key items of metadata, and even part of the message content using Outlook ‘Instant Search’ facility.

This works well for both pilers and filers

For the filer, they’ll still probably start off in a particular folder in their mailbox, or in virtual vault, and they’ll maybe still jump around to different folders trying to locate the email item they are seeking, but with Instant Search they can quickly just search the whole of Outlook, and that includes the metadata inside Virtual Vault.

For the piler, they’ll be able to be in their solitary folder (usually the Inbox) and search for items. They too can quickly search to Virtual Vault to see the results of searching their archived items, or they can search the whole of Outlook using Instant Search.

So what IS the fastest way to find any email?

When all said and done studies have taken place to figure out whether filers or pilers find information in their mailbox faster. Some studies say pilers, some say filers – so the jury is still considered to be ‘out’ on that front. Adding Enterprise Vault into the mix adds a different dimension of searching possibilities, and the sure fire winner of the fastest way to find any email is to fully embrace the powerful searching possibilities of using Outlook inconjunction with carefully crafted archiving policies, and Virtual Vault.

Has filing or piling been affected for you by an Enterprise Vault deployment?

Images: Thanks to Raoul Luoar, Damian Gadal and John “Pathfinder” Lester.

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