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March 05, 2008

Where have all the emails gone?

A fascinating look at the the technical details behind the "missing" White House emails by David Gewirtz, a former professor of computer science who has lectured at UC Berkeley.

Here's his take on the testimony of the senior White House IT officials:

If, in fact, the bulk of the White House email records are now stored in bundles of rotting PST files, all at or above their maximum safe load-level, well, that ain't good in a very big way.

For the record, the 2 gigabyte limit (and the 1.6 gig practical limit) isn't a secret. Most IT managers running Outlook are very aware of this, and we, here at OutlookPower have written about it numerous times. So to use PST files as a Presidential Records Act archiving methodology is an undeniable worst-practice. [OP]

One of the most interesting questions in this whole controversy is why the White House replaced a functional email archiving system in the first place. The standard excuse is that the Clinton administration was using Lotus Notes and Lotus Notes is obsolete, so therefore the Bush administration had to switch over.

Gewirtz doesn't mince words:

Let me be clear here. Lotus Notes is anything but dead. Lotus Notes is an active, vibrant messaging technology with many strengths far in excess of Outlook and Exchange. To characterize Lotus Notes as either wooden wagon wheel technology or Betamax tapes is so far off from the technical and commercial reality as to be ludicrous.

And here's where it gets dangerous. If you think Lotus Notes is an obsolete technology, then migrating off of it, even in a build-up to war, might make sense. But when you realize that Notes is anything but obsolete, then you must ask deeper questions, like why did a migration occur at such a critical time, or did the White House IT staff know so little about messaging technology to make such a mischaracterization? [OP]

Read the whole thing. 


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There's also nothing wrong with using "obsolete" technology as long as it doesn't prevent communication with outside users. It's not as if the White House really needs embedded sound files or movies in their email. Constantly fixing things that aren't broken is a chronic malady of IT departments.

So grab the deleted emails, then.

It seems a bit, no correct that, ALOT ridiculous that the frickin WHITE HOUSE does not the top of the line, state of the art email server(s) available. If it is intentional, just another reason on the mountain of others The Shrub needs to go!

I work for a federal agency that uses Lotus Notes/Domino. Works for us, and we get upgrades pretty regularly.
We also handle mountains of data that has to be archived on terabyte storage media and converted from one format to another. We’re mostly biologists, not IT folks, and we manage to figure it out. You’d think that the White House, which has just a few more resources at their disposal, could manage at least as well.

There are only two possibilities:
1 – Everyone working at the White House for the last eight years is so abysmally retarded and incompetent that they’d be completely overwhelmed if assigned the task of raking the fucking leaves off the W.H. lawn, or –
2 – They’re lying.

I hate Lotus Notes. With our system at work, you can only access work e-mails or files on servers from your dedicated work computer. Which means lots of times you cannot get what you need ( when at home )

I don't think this feature means any enhanced security. Lots of corporations claim to have terrific security with entirely web based e-mail.

I could never understand why anyone would want to have anything tied to a C Drive. As soon as webmail came out, I started using it exclusively. So if my computer crashes for good, I say so what.

This has nothing to do with the White House policies, but I hate Lotus Notes and have never used Outlook. Its the web, or its nowhere.

As a Notes user for over 12 years, it's a fine messaging technology. As for the Phantom's quibbles, that sounds like an internal company policy decision - Notes has made it's infrastructure web friendly since at least 2001.

Notes user, programmer, computer geek. Gewirtz is correct, notes is anything but obsolete techonology. It has built-in, easy to use, public-key encryption, which is probably why it's popular with government users. It's being actively developed, new releases are just around the corner. Version 8 will be java-based. There's even a linux client. It can secure your data and your email communications. The databases are easy to setup and use. It's big and complex, but it does a lot. I only use it for work-related stuff.

I don't understand why they are using the PST files. That's a microsoft format. AFAIK, notes mail file sizes are only limited only by the underlying hardware and operating system. I agree with cfrost, and I'll pick option 2 - they're lying. I can't wait until next January when we can kick the petulant children out of the white house.




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