Evaluate the pros and cons of various email archiving solutions
Some topics are polarizing by their very nature. For example, if you ask a random person about a reality TV show such as So You Think You Can Dance, you'll likely get one of two responses: The person will either love the show or hate it. Email archiving fosters the same kind of polarized reaction. People who work for organizations that have archiving and compliance requirements are intensely interested in the topic, whereas people who work for organizations that don't have such requirements typically pay little or no attention to archiving.
However, this polarization is slowly changing as more organizations realize the benefits of archiving corporate email messages. These advantages include ease of compliance with regulatory requirements and improved productivity for end users who benefit from having all their mail available at once.
Microsoft has been fairly aggressive in the archiving space, introducing its own on-premises archiving solution in the form of Exchange Server 2010's Personal Archive feature. Exchange 2010 SP1 allows a mailbox and its associated archive to be in different mailbox databases, which means your mailboxes can be hosted by Microsoftand your archives can be hosted on your own servers, or vice versa. Several archiving vendors also sell their own hosted archiving systems. Evaluating the pros and cons of each type of archiving system will help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each, so that you can determine how a particular solution might meet your own needs.
Do You Need Archiving?
The first question to ask is whether you actually need archiving in the first place. There are three possible answers to this question: Yes, No, and Maybe.
Some companies are required by law, regulation, or other considerations to maintain archives of their email messages. Examples abound; for example, financial services companies in most countries are required to archive at least some of their electronic communications, and many choose to go beyond the basic requirements to reduce their liability.
A small number of companies absolutely do not want to use archiving because they don't want a corporate-sponsored repository of valuable data that becomes subject to legal discovery or regulatory inquiry. To the extent that they're required to use archiving for regulatory or compliance reasons, they aggressively limit what they archive, how long it's kept, and who's allowed to set or change archiving policies.
Most companies fall between these extremes. They don't have a defined legal or regulatory requirement to archive their email messages. Instead, they might archive messages to reduce the cost of messaging services, to prepare for potential discovery or compliance requirements in the future, or to improve employee efficiency by giving users a robust archiving mechanism. Organizations in this group can often categorize the demand for archiving based on the stakeholders who are asking for it:
- IT stakeholders are primarily concerned with cost reduction, data management, and service provision. If you're asking questions such as "Will archiving help extend the useful life of my servers?" and "Can archiving reduce the cost of my primary Exchange storage?" then you fall into this category.
- Business stakeholders are primarily concerned with efficiency and productivity. For them, archiving is a way to help users be more productive by allowing fast recovery of required data.
- Legal stakeholders are typically tasked with keeping the organization and its employees out of jail and out of the headlines. Their archiving requirements involve the ability to quickly and accurately respond to discovery requests, dispose of unneeded data, and set policies that ensure that the requirements they face are met consistently.
Because of the overlap between these requirements, you might think that selecting an archiving solution would be straightforward. In practice, what typically happens is that Exchange administrators are asked to choose a solution based on their own understanding of the requirements -- which often leads to buying an inappropriate solution. If archiving is important to your business, you must think of it as a long-term strategy, not a check box or a purchase order.