Recently at two customer sites I watched as they did end user testing of Enterprise Vault FSA. These two customers had been long time users of Enterprise Vault for Exchange, and were now stretching out in terms of their Enterprise Vault deployment and archiving some of their file servers that users had access to day to day.
It was interesting to see how users worked within Outlook on mail messages, and on files on their file shares. I heard a few people mention that they wanted to be able to manually archive files, and looked longingly at the options on the right click menu after selecting a file. Of course during this testing it wasn't long before users started voice a few concerns about not being able to manually archive a file, like they can with an email in Outlook.
I don't think that these customers or these end users were particularly unusual. One group of users were HR workers in a bank, and the others were line managers in a manufacturing company. It was clear though that there was something missing.
It's the power of user choice.
Forcing policies on to people isn't necessarily the right way. Nor is spending months debating whether one particular checkbox in a policy is the 'right thing' for 10,000+ users. They're individuals after all, and if a policy is imposed on them which they don't like, they'll try their hardest to work around it, and find an alternative. And imposing a policy where 'one size fits no-one' is a sure fire way for people to start to complain to colleagues and managers about how bad IT is.
The problem with File Server Archiving though is that there is no end-user choice. It's policy driven archiving all the way with no opportunity for end-users to say when they want particular items to be archived. There is very little that can be done inside the base product to get Enterprise Vault to do anything 'nice' for these users that want the choice, and power, to be able to archive data that they want to on the file system, just like they can with Outlook.
I have seen many attempts from people to try to solve the problem of end-user archiving by using techniques 'in' Enterprise Vault. But in the end these have always fallen short. People have tried more aggressive archiving, but then find the environment swamped with recall requests. People have tried less aggressive archiving, but then file servers' space usage just continues to grow in an uncontrolled manner. They've tried tweaking policies and getting different, or more, file types picked up by the archiving runs.. but still no good.
I've even seen attempts where people have used the FSARunNow tool wrapped in a web page which lets end-users list specific files or folders that they want to have archived 'now', or at least the next time an hour or bi-hourly scheduled tasks picks up the requests. I've seen people decide to have specific folders in place on file servers that will get archived more frequently during the day time in order to deliberately archive items, but that involves users moving files to those folders, disrupting established workflows and leading to confusion with end-users.
They all fall short...
They are all not flexible enough, and all differ too much from the simple approach of manual archiving when it comes to archiving emails in Outlook.
For these reasons and more, we produced the FSA Shell Extension. We should have thought of a more snazzy name, that's for sure, but the tool which is deployed on each end-users Windows machine does what this article says: One click FSA Archiving. We have very simply given back users the power of choice when it comes to archiving files on a file system.
With the extension installed, and a small amount of configuration via some registry settings (easily pushed out by GPO) end-users can have the ability to right click on one or more files, or folders, even including existing placeholders (which of course will be skipped) and issue an 'archive now' command. The items are then archived. Now. Right now! Little or no delay (unless the IIS Application Pool has spun down from inactivity - and that can always be increased or the spin-down removed)
End users love this feature, and of course so do many administrators. The administrators still want to couple this with policies to ensure that all appropriate data is eventually archived, and they see this facility as just another tool, or another benefit to their end-user community. It doesn't replace the policy driven archiving - it complements it. Administrators also have the power to decide which users get the extension, and, which FSA shares will be touchable by the extension, and if it's not in the list, end-users won't be able to do any manual archiving. There are many options that can be considered to suit each environment as needed.
At QUADROtech we believe in change ... change is our business! So adopting new technologies like the FSA API which was released a few service packs ago in Enterprise Vault is something that we saw would immediately help us fill a gap. That gap is to give end-users the ability to manually archive files from the file system - just like they can with Exchange Mailboxes, and the Enterprise Vault Mailbox Archiving. To every single customer that the FSA Shell Extension has been demo'ed there have been many different kinds of praise bestowed on the right-ness of such an extension.
Do your uses want to manually archive files ? Let me know in the comments below.