Readers have recently brought up the subject of mailbox overload and the need for archival solutions. When your Exchange Server Information Store (IS) grows beyond your ability to recover it in a timely manner, what should you do? Not everyone can afford to run out and buy a Storage Area Network (SAN) or even another hard disk, so how can you keep the size of your IS manageable? Rather than look at more hardware, why not look at solutions that can help you manage or even reduce the size of your IS.

Mailbox overload problems have spawned an entire Exchange Server product segment—archival solutions. The "economy" (i.e., free) product of this segment, Exchange Mailbox Manager, has been available in Exchange 5.5 since Service Pack 3 (SP3) and is now available in Exchange 2000 SP1. Mailbox Manager lets you perform automatic scheduled mailbox cleanups based on policies you set. Third-party products have entered this archival solutions market and filled an important niche. The three most popular products that I'm aware of are KVS's Enterprise Vault, EDUCOM's Exchange Archive Solution, and IXOS-eCONServer for Microsoft Exchange.

All three products provide similar functionality to help you control the size of your ISs. When you evaluate archival products, look for several key features that will fit your needs. First, how does the product store archived data? What is the underlying storage and routing mechanism (e.g., Oracle, SQL Server, Microsoft Message Queue—MSMQ—Server) that archives email? Does the application support Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) products? What is the archival performance (i.e., archived message rate)?

The next area of concern is the client experience. What client software is required? What activities can the client perform (e.g., archival, recovery, policy setting)? How do you recover items from the archive? For example, most products place a sort of "tombstone" in the user's Inbox, indicating that the program has archived an item. Can the user search the archive, and what interfaces (e.g., Outlook add-in, browser) are available to do so?

The final area of importance for archival solutions is administration. Is the system easy to deploy and manage? What level of control do you have over archival operations? How granular are your options for setting archival policies? Finally, how scalable is the system? As an administrator, you need a solution that can grow with your Exchange deployment and provide maximum functionality.

These features are important when selecting an archival solution for Exchange. Because the playing field for these types of solutions is fairly level, you'll need to define key requirements for your environment. Whichever product you choose, an archival solution for your Exchange deployment can be a key storage management strategy that helps manage bloated ISs and ensure they don't grow beyond your disaster-recovery and management capabilities.