Product Review: Acaveo Smart Information Server


Product: Acaveo Smart Information Server

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Acaveo Inc. is the developer of Smart Information Server (SIS), an information governance software that enables organizations to better manage and secure their unstructured information by applying identity-aware Big Data concepts across e-mail, file and collaboration repositories.

SIS is an easy-to-use software that gives administrators visibility, control and analytic information over large and diverse volumes of unstructured data by leveraging existing full-text indexes to catalogue items’ metadata. This data may be dispersed across multiple on-premise servers and services (SIS supports Exchange, SharePoint and Windows File Servers) or even in the cloud (Office 365 is also supported).

Installation & Configuration

By following the provided Installation and Configuration Guide, the installation of SIS is very straightforward. In its simplest deployment, SIS can be installed on a single server (running Windows Server 2008 R2 or above) and configured to store its data in an SQL Server database (SQL Server 2008 or above) also on the same server. For bigger or more complex scenarios, or even due to security/privacy reasons, SIS can be deployed across multiple servers with separate database instances storing the data. Note that SIS does not copy or full-text index data. As such, it does not require extensive storage.

Once installed, the SIS console is used to control every aspect of SIS. This console does not have to run on the same machine where SIS was installed on. It can be installed on different machines, allowing multiple users to remotely connect their console instance simultaneously to SIS.

Figure 1: SIS Console Connection

As mentioned above, SIS supports a variety of unstructured data sources. For each of these sources, we can define:

  • A scope within the source. For Exchange, the source can be defined as mailboxes (individual, multiple, or all mailboxes) as well as all public folders; for SharePoint, it can be defined as either a Web Application or a Site Collection; for files servers, it is defined as a UNC path to a server or specific file share location;
  • The schedule which specifies when the source will be scanned;
  • The metadata that will be tracked, made available in analytics and exposed as criteria to rules.

For example, in the screenshot below we can see what data is gathered automatically for Exchange items by default. This can easily be extended by adding User Defined Attributes. These properties can be used for analytics, queries and rules as we will see.

Figure 2:
Attributes Automatically Gathered

A great advantage of SIS is that it does not require the deployment of any software to desktops or endpoints, or any modifications or software agents on production servers. SIS runs under a “normal” domain account which is used to access Active Directory and the target data sources. This account also requires permissions to access the sources we specify. For example, if file shares are used then it needs at least Read permission to all folders/files on the shares. If the Defensible Deletion functionality is used (discussed later), then Delete\Write permissions are required instead.

As for Exchange, the following are required so that SIS is able to access mailboxes and public folders:

  • Exchange Web Services and Outlook Anywhere must be enabled and useable;
  • The SIS account must have full read access to all Exchange mailboxes and public folders that will be supported. If the Defensible Deletion functionality is used, then the account needs full access permissions instead.

Please note that, although you are giving full access permissions to mailboxes, SIS administrators will not be able to read content from user’s mailboxes, only certain key metadata.

Adding Exchange as a source is also very straightforward as SIS will get most of the required information from Active Directory and Exchange AutoDiscover. When configuring a new source, we just need to give the source a name, specify which database will host the data from this source, select Exchange Organizationas the Source Type and decide if we want to process all mailboxes or just a selected group of mailboxes:

Figure 3:
New Exchange Source – General

We can also specify if we want to process an Exchange Online tenant (on Office 365), process the Recoverable Items Folder (previously known as Dumpster), Archive mailboxes and public folders:

Figure 4:
New Exchange Source – Advanced

The Production Staging Mailbox referenced above is the SMTP address for the mailbox that will be used for staging Exchange content when the eDiscovery feature is used. If you do not select the Leave Produced Exchange Content in Staging Mailbox option, produced Exchange content is automatically exported from the staging mailbox to a .PST file, and this .PST file is then saved into a UNC path location specified in the options. If this setting is enabled, produced Exchange content will remain in the staging mailbox, from which it can be manually exported to a .PST file.

SIS profiles active mailboxes, archive mailboxes, recoverable items and public folders. It also maps permissions, including delegates and folder sharing as well as public folder permissions, so that administrators can get a complete picture of what someone has access to in Exchange.

Once our source is configured, and a manual or a scheduled scan of it is performed, we will have access to an overview of the data, including in this case the number or mailboxes and items, their total size, and historic information regarding the number of items and their total size. This screen also allows us to easily and quickly assess which users are taking most of the space in our Exchange environment:

Figure 5:
SIS Sources


Immediately after the scanning of at least one source, SIS provides interactive analytics on the unstructured data of the configured source(s):

Figure 6:
SIS Dashboard

Source Breakdown enables administrators to get analytics on a specific source type. By hovering the mouse over a specific source, we get further details depending on which Chart Mode we select:

Figure 7:
SIS Dashboard – Source Breakdown

Facet Breakdown enables grouping of data based on their size, last modified time, etc. If on Source Breakdown we right-click on a particular source, then we can analyze data just for that particular source.

Figure 8:
SIS Dashboard – Facet Breakdown (All Sources)

Figure 9:
SIS Dashboard – Facet Breakdown (File Server Source)

A breakdown of the data by location is also presented:

Figure 10:
SIS Dashboard – Data Location

By right-clicking on a location (in this case a mailbox), we have the ability to open it in the Information Intelligence browser for a more detailed look (Figure 11).

Information Intelligence

The Information Intelligence browser is an interactive inventory of all the data processed by SIS. As we drill into it, context is available for each location and item, allowing us to understand and check permissions, metadata and activities related to the selection.

Figure 11:
SIS Information Intelligence

FACETS allows us to classify and group information based on any metadata we configure, enabling us to see a categorized breakdown of the data:

Figure 12:
SIS Information Intelligence – Facets

The Information Intelligence browser also allows us to drill down into individual items and check the metadata related to those items that we configured to be captured (Figure 2). In the following screenshot we can see, for example, the Exchange Retention Policy Tag applied to the selected e-mail and when it is going to expire:

Figure 13:
Exchange Item Metadata

SIS allows us to apply advanced filters so we can work or specific data by using datasets. If we need to take action on items within a dataset, we can optionally enable one or multiple actions in the dataset such as an alert or automatic collection of that data into a particular location called vault. Datasets can also be made active so that each time a source scan occurs, the dataset will automatically refresh its items based on the latest information and execute any pending actions according to your dataset rules.

Figure 14:
New Dataset

Figure 15:
Example of Datasets

Litigation & eDiscovery

Litigation and eDiscovery have always been something that Exchange administrators struggle to achieve in an efficient way. Exchange 2010 and 2013 greatly improved these features, but what about SharePoint and File Servers?

SIS helps administrators create and maintain an actionable inventory of the major unstructured data repositories in the organization. It can query active information using a number of filtering techniques that produce targeted datasets. These datasets can be used to assess data and can optionally have an action applied to them, such as to preserve full fidelity copies of the information to a secure preservation vault. This preservation vault (we can use multiple vaults) can be created in network storage on-premise or in the cloud using Windows Azure Storage.

As new information enters a source (new e-mail arrives in a user’s mailbox for example), SIS can automatically identify this new data and perform the necessary actions, if any.

The following example searches files servers, mailboxes and public folders for any data that contains the keyword ProjectX. Whenever any is found, it gets automatically exported into a secure vault. This allows us, if required, to easily produce full-fidelity information from the vault, including any attachments and metadata from the extracted data so it can be consumed by an eDiscovery solution.

Figure 16:
Example of an eDiscovery Dataset – Filter

Figure 17:
Example of an eDiscovery Dataset – Actions

Defensible Deletion

As we all know, most data is typically not deleted at the end of its lifecycle, which means organizations keep data well beyond its usefulness and retention requirements. This is more and more a concern as the volume and size of data keeps growing, with IT departments typically overspending on storage and hardware unnecessarily.

Another powerful feature of SIS is Defensible Deletion which includes a number of actions that can be associated with datasets to help perform storage housekeeping, respond to litigation requests and get alerted to possible security or compliance issues. For compliance reasons, each action, such as data deletion for example, SIS includes an audit trail.

SIS allows administrators to track where certain (configurable) items reside at any time. The Defensible Deletion Dashboard provides administrators with charts displaying the data sources that have content in the program along with historical deletion activities:

Figure 18:
Defensible Deletion Dashboard

By using the datasets discussed previously, SIS provides a comprehensive rules engine that identifies items for possible deletion and automatically injects them into a customizable workflow where one or more approvers can check the deletion dataset(s) and make decisions (allow/reject) on an item-level as well as broader-level decisions on locations and facet classifications.

Figure 19:
Reason for Approval Decision

By deploying a defensible deletion program, organizations can easily reduce clutter, risks and costs that result from over-retaining information.

Final Thoughts

Smart Information Server is a great and brand new product that is on the right track. Although Exchange 2013 provides some of the same features, SIS gives administrators a much richer and easier to use interface for analyzing (and acting upon) Exchange data overall. The fact that it works with Exchange, Office 365, SharePoint and File Servers makes it a great tool for an organization-wide information governance solution, and by being agent-less makes it even better. Rating 4.5/5

Learn more about Acaveo Smart Information Server or request a free trial here.

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