This is the last article in my series about email archiving features; however, I will probably conduct a new survey concerning email archiving. Today, I will discuss some technical considerations that must be taken into account when introducing an email archiving solution. In particular, I will consider email archiving services, appliances, email systems, and enterprise features.
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The first issue to consider before you begin evaluating email archiving solutions is whether you want to buy and install the software yourself, or employ an email archiving service. Since the cloud computing hype will probably reach its peak in 2009, I believe many will take the latter way. It is an attractive solution due to the time and effort that is saved.
Email archiving services
In the course of my career, I have outsourced many IT solutions to larger computer centers. What seems simple initially can cause many technical problems. In this case, you not only have to ensure that all emails are routed to the service provider, but you also have to synchronize the user databases. This is necessary to enable end-users to restore emails by themselves. Most time consuming are those cases where an end-user cannot access the service and you don’t see any technical problem on your side, but the service provider purports that everything works just fine. We have to deal with such incidences every day, and I can tell you, it is not fun.
Another downside is that you will be allowing a third party access to all of your company’s emails. You usually won't know those guys personally who have access to your company’s email database. Obviously, such a database is very attractive for any competitor. Thus, there is a big difference between storing your private emails in the cloud or a company’s archive encompassing emails of ten years or more. However, I must admit, I have no practical experiences with an email archiving service provider and it may be that some are very reliable. Please let me know your experiences, if you ever tried such a service.
Email archiving appliances
My attitude towards appliances is no more positive. Basically, an appliance is just a normal server with everything pre-installed by the vendor. Again, this would appear to make things easier because you just have to connect the appliance to the network. However, in most cases, time-consuming work begins once the system is booted-up. Installing an email archiving solution is not a big deal in most cases and only has to be done once.
The technically demanding task begins after the software has been installed. Configuring everything, monitoring the system, installing updates, help desk calls, etc. all cost time. An appliance can’t really help here. Moreover, the flexibility of appliances is often quite restricted. Often you can’t install your own software or use it for another purpose once you moved to another system. Again, this is just my very subjective view. If you have better experiences with appliances in general, or specifically with an email archiving appliance, then please share them here.
A crucial factor to email archiving solutions is what mail system you have. Most email archiving tools support Exchange, many support Lotus Notes, and a few are GroupWise compatible. There are also products that are independent of the email system. These work as SMTP servers, capturing all emails before they are delivered to the email server. These solutions have their charm because you can replace your email system with another product without changing the archiving tool. Email archiving is a long-term project and moving your archive to a different system is something you want to avoid at all costs!
However, email archiving solutions that are specialized for a certain email system can have enough advantageous features that it is worth giving up the flexibility of an independent product. For example, an archiving tool for Exchange might integrate seamlessly into Outlook, allowing end-users to access their archived emails easily. In addition, you can use the access control mechanisms of Exchange. Restoring emails to the Exchange database is also easier than with an independent solution.
Large enterprises have different needs than small and mid-sized businesses. One essential feature for big companies is that their email archiving solution supports multiple email domains. Email servers are usually spread across the globe so it might be necessary to archive emails through relatively slow connections. Perhaps you want to have a backend system on all major bases of your organization. Hence, the email archiving solution has to be able to synchronize distributed archives. Typically, enterprise archiving solutions come with connectors to other databases, such as email response systems (ERM), customer relationship systems (CRM), document management systems (DMS), or enterprise resource planning systems (ERP).
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My feature list of email archiving solutions is by no means complete, despite having dedicated three lengthy posts to this topic. I will probably try some products in the near future and it is likely that I will encounter new important features which I will add here. If I make any major changes, I will inform you via Twitter and my weekly tweet summary here on 4sysops. If you have experiences with email archiving or if I have missed an important feature, it would be great if you could share your expertise here.
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I recently had an conversation with a few of my Agency’s Microsoft Knowledge Exports and Technical Account Managers. They advised that we should consider requiring a solution that utilizes Exchange backup and recovery APIs as opposed to custom database injections that enable a third party EAS solution to backup/recover Exchange data because it increases the liklihood of corrupt Exchange database. Does anyone have any insight to this and why or why not this should be something we require?