Why You Need to Implement and Email Archiving Strategy

Posted on February 27, 2014


Email is the primary channel of business communication today.  We all know the immediacy at which users call the help desk only seconds after the email server goes down.  Users depend on it.  That’s why you backup your email data every night.

In the past number of years however, the concept of email archiving has not only become popularized, but become an operational and legal necessity that is sometimes even mandated for many organizations within certain industries today.  Many professionals however still remain confused on how email archiving differs from that of normal backups.  In this paper, we will add clarity to these two concepts and outline the benefits of an offsite or cloud based email archiving service for your organization.

You backup your email data in order to protect against possible failures or disasters.  Failures may be at the micro level such as the deletion of an important email by a manager, or at the macro level in which an entire email store becomes corrupt and unrepairable.  Disaster could be a RAID failure of the email storage system or a natural disaster that destroys the data center itself.  Whatever the failure or disaster, regular backups allow you to restore copies of your latest email data at the user or system level.

Email backups are about backing up current email data although the definition of “current” can be different for every organization.  There are several key limitations that inhibit regular email backups from saving the entire historical record of email data for an organization.

  • Many organizations enforce some sort of email quota which forces users to delete old emails.
  • The data storage required for an email production environment is very expensive, which economically prevents the organization from retaining all email data.
  • Backup retention policies prevent the elongated preservation of data over time as backup storage is continually rotated.
  • As email data stores grow larger over time, the amount of time required to back up the data can easily exceed the off-peak windows of time that email backups occur in.

Email backups deal with “copies” as well.  This is an important concept for several reasons:

  • The original email can either be lost forever or be accessible by users to be modified or deleted.
  • The backup copy can be modified or deleted as well
  • Backups that are saved over time are usually stored on tape or some type of portable media.  This makes it difficult to track down a particular email or series of emails as there is no catalog or indexing system.

If email is the primary channel of business communication today, it also means that it becomes an important channel of legal business documentation.  The digital exchange of information amongst management, customers and partners constitutes a record.  This record can not only be of significant importance to the organization at a future date, but email correspondence is increasingly being required to be retained for minimum periods of time by various legal statues today.  Consequently, such correspondence must be retained for a minimum period of time, often established by statutes.

Email archiving is a secure repository of email stored within a non-productive environment, preserving email for both operational and compliance purposes.  Unlike email backups, an archiving system isn’t backing up emails per se, instead it is extracting the message contents and attachments of the emails, indexes them, and stores them in a read-only format.  The diagram below shows how an email archiving system operates.  Whether your email is hosted on premise within your organization or hosted by a third party, all incoming and outgoing emails are sent to the archiving system, in this case, hosted by a third party in the cloud.  Users can then search for and retrieve requested emails from the archive server.

The primary benefits of a hosted email archive system include:

  • The archiving process deals with the original email, not a copy.  Once archived, the message is saved in a read-only format which cannot be altered in any way nor deleted.
  • Emails can be restored from the archive if necessary.
  • The search and retrieval process is far less complicated for an archive system as all messages are stored within a single repository and indexed.  Users can search for emails usually with a simple web interface.
  • The data is stored in a non-production environment so storage costs are greatly reduced.
  • The data is independent of file types so the information can be retrieved regardless of what email client or office application is being utilized by your users at the present time.
  • Transferring emails to the archive location reduces the workload of the production email server which improves productivity and efficiency for the live environment.
  • Internal IT staff are no longer saddled with the task of email archiving and retrieval, allotting them more time to allocate their energies to more mission critical tasks.

Due to the dependency of today’s organizations on email, the days of piecing together full and incremental back tapes for email restoration and retention or over.  The amount of data is too overwhelming and the importance of preserving and maintaining a digital record of business correspondence has not only become essential from an operational standpoint, but from a legal one as well.