It's easy to enumerate the reasons why archiving email to the cloud is a good choice for many organizations. Hosted email archiving solutions are easy to deploy, and you're offloading tedious management tasks (e.g., maintenance, monitoring) to the hosted email archiving provider. Plus, you can typically expect fixed monthly costs for the service. However, you have to be willing to accept that the provider has adequate security measures in place for your data and business needs, so choosing the right provider is a serious decision.

Paul Robichaux discusses how to choose between hosted email archiving and on-premises archiving in his article "Hosted Versus On-Premises EmailArchiving."  If you're not sure which method best suits your organization, I recommend checking out that article. This Buyer's Guide assumes you've settled on a hosted service as the best approach to meet your archiving needs. The accompanying table gives a glimpse at a few of the services available, but I highly recommend you do further research, as this is a quickly changing market segment.

Big Data and Its Implications

In the past, a consideration for hosted archiving services was the storage quota: how much data you could store with the service and how much it would cost if your storage needs increased. However, most hosted email archiving services now offer unlimited storage as a standard feature-that is, no mailbox quotas are imposed. In addition, most services let you import legacy data, such as old email messages from PSTs, when you start the service, although they might charge a fee for this feature.

All the providers that appear in this guide offer unlimited storage and let you bring legacy data. Simply put, what this means is that you can have hosted email archives that are huge. The question to ask yourself is whether that's a situation you want for your business. Your users, of course, will be thrilled if they can shuffle everything into the cloud, find it through a search when they want it, and never have to delete anything. Your legal department might think otherwise if they ever have to review that data for an e-discovery request.

While you're considering an email archiving solution, it's a good opportunity to also think about instituting a comprehensive email retention policy so that you're not archiving useless or unnecessary data. "What companies essentially do is a risk assessment," said Barry Murphy, cofounder and principal analyst for the eDJ Group. "They say, 'What's the risk that Joe Shmo is going to lose an email that would make him better at his job versus the risk that I would have to pay a lawyer $500 an hour to review that document should it ever come up in a case?' The popular wisdom is that most of what's in our email systems is junk, which is not necessarily a bad assumption."

An email archive can be an extremely valuable thing for both end users and your legal team. But if you let them become cluttered with useless messages, you'll find the value somewhat more questionable. Be proactive in your retention policies to maintain a useful archive.

Not All Email Is Equal

As you investigate your options for hosted email archiving services, you'll find that they offer features for life cycle management, which is important particularly if you have or are implementing some form of retention policy. Life cycle management lets you set how long you want a particular item to remain in the archive before it's deleted forever. Some services have a limited lifespan for items by default-make sure you know what the service you choose does so you won't be surprised when items start disappearing unexpectedly.

You're also going to have cases where certain blocks of data might need different retention lengths in the archive than others. Legal holds are the obvious case here, but your business might have other reasons to make exceptions. As Murphy said, "Not all departments are created equal. Maybe the research and development group at a pharmaceutical company should keep their email longer because they have some really important stuff there, whereas a group of marketing assistants might not keep their email as long because the chance that they're creating deep intellectual property is a lot less than someone in R&D."

If you're in an organization with multiple departments with varying needs, having the ability to set different retention lengths could be a useful feature-or indeed, necessary if you're frequently the target of litigation. And if you're archiving data that might be considered sensitive, whether the vendor encrypts your data in storage, as well as what method of encryption is used, could be deciding factors.

SLAs and Due Diligence

As with any hosted service, the standard caveats apply when choosing a hosted email archiving provider. Perform your due diligence, carefully assess the terms of the company's service level agreement (SLA), and ask your questions up front. Get familiar with the security certifications for data centers and know what your provider is certified for. Ask for customer recommendations. As Paul Robichaux said in his article, "Run-don't walk-away from any vendor that makes it difficult for you to do [any] of these things."

In a lot of ways, choosing a hosted vendor is more work than picking software to run on premises. However, if you make the right choice, you should find that your email archiving needs are well served in the cloud.