Microsoft SharePoint has become what email was a decade ago: a dumping ground for content. Companies are realizing that this content needs to be managed, secured, and -- in many cases -- archived.

The first two needs are obvious, but why would you want to archive SharePoint content? For three simple yet compelling reasons: data reduction (which can affect performance), governance, and compliance.

"Archiving tools . . . help you maintain the size of your content databases as well as allow for real-time version-history archiving," said Errin O'Connor, who has more than a decade's worth of experience with SharePoint and is founder and CEO of EPC Group.net. Helping achieve the goals of a governance plan is yet another reason for archiving SharePoint content. "Archiving old sites that are no longer used -- this is key, as it's important to either delete or archive content that's no longer relevant," O'Connor said.

Easily retrieving that content is important as well. "You may have a project team site that was used for a project and that project is over, but in a year or two a similar project may pop up again and the project manager or team members may want to go back and restore that archived site to follow the best practices or lessons learned from that previous project," O'Connor said.

Archiving is a basic best practice in records management, but there's an even more compelling reason for some organizations. "Archiving is about compliance," said Ron Charity, a SharePoint product manager who has worked with SharePoint since 2001 and focuses on governance, information architecture, technical architecture, and operations. Compliance with industry or governmental regulations is essential for many, if not most, organizations, especially in the United States, which is home to the largest percentage of the world's lawsuits. Compliance and auditing capabilities go hand in hand with archiving. As O'Connor explained, "You can restore an archive to a site or SharePoint instance and make that data available to auditors and e-discovery activities without affecting the live SharePoint farm."

But SharePoint 2010 has the ability to declare records in place, so why would you need a third-party archiving solution? For one thing, Charity said, many organizations need a compliant archival engine (e.g., compliant with US Department of Defense -- DoD -- requirements). Another reason, he said, is that "enterprise records management systems scale much better due to N-Tier architecture and use of the file system for items and SQL Server for logic." Additionally, you can't beat the convenience of certain third-party products' features. "When archived data is disposed of, client systems issue certificates for legal purposes," Charity said.

What should you look for in a SharePoint archiving solution? Seamless integration with SharePoint is obvious, and vendors accomplish this goal in different ways. For example, many solutions stub the item in SharePoint and move it to the archive, whereas some solutions integrate with SharePoint at the event-handler layer to capture items. Can end users search for and access archived content in SharePoint? They'd better be able to, unless you like training them on new solutions and procedures.

E-discovery capability is useful; as part of that, so is the ability to archive all content types and data in SharePoint. Also consider how the vendor packages a solution, whether as a suite or a standalone product (only your organization's needs should determine which option is best for you). Then there are things that you won't know until you try a tool: how flexible it is, how easy it is to use, and how responsive the customer service is.

The buyer's guide table shows a sampling of SharePoint archiving vendors and the particulars of their solutions. If you're still not sold on the need for archiving SharePoint content, read the AIIM blog "The Case for SharePoint Archiving." Another useful blog post on SharePoint archiving and what to look for in a SharePoint archiving solution is Geoff Evelyn's "SharePoint Archiving -- Defining a Way Forward."