Ask Scott Petry, founder of Postini and product management director in Google's enterprise group, about the state of e-mail and he'll joke, "Customers who don't use us remain screwed."
But Petry's lighthearted dismissal of the competition is more than reflexive evangelism. It reflects a real problem: Spam, which Bill Gates infamously predicted would be "solved" by 2006, accounts for somewhere between 90% and 95% of all e-mail and continues to become more burdensome for businesses and individuals every day.
That's because spam messages have been getting heavier, as measured in bytes. Thanks to image and attachment payloads, the number of spam byes processed per user by Google's Postini has grown 123% between Q3 2008 and Q3 2009.
"The story is that it's not a nuisance, it's a denial-of-service attack against customers' infrastructure," explained Petry.
Spammers may not get to 100% of total e-mail volume, he said, but they can continue to increase the pressure on e-mail infrastructure with heftier messages.
Lately, the spam situation has been particularly bad. In Q3 2009, Postini blocked over 100 million viruses every day, an amount that has "made the 2007 Storm virus attack look small in comparison," as Google Security and Compliance Services team member Adam Swidler put it in a blog post.
The story, to hear Petry tell it, has a happy ending in the cloud, where message security and archiving can be offered as a scalable service, where massive amounts of hosted messages can be mined for data that leads to greater security for customers.
It's the Google party line, but it also has merit, to judge by the recent hosted messaging acquisitions by McAfee (MX Logic) and Symantec (MessageLabs), and by Cisco's announcement of an IronPort hosted service in March.
"Delivering this service in the cloud has become an industry best practice," said Petry. "You just can't make the case for managing the infrastructure yourself."
Petry notes that more than half of Postini's customers are using the service for content policy management. And he says that Postini has been looking at ways to make its security, archiving, and management technology available beyond Gmail in Google Apps, in emerging services like Google Wave.
"I think Google Wave is incredibly exciting," he said. "It looks to be a profound change in the way people communicate and collaborate. We're working on Postini security and compliance tools and making them work with other data types that Google supports. And Wave is one of those data types."
What that means is that users of Google Apps, Wave and other Google services are likely to see more tools allowing centralized management of data in the future.
"IT is tiring of sticking fingers in the dike to plug holes where water is coming out," he said, referring to the difficulties companies face overseeing a diverse set of Web services. "Google wants to be a unifying factor in making those apps manageable."
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