Outsourcing email archiving for SMBs

While email significantly improves productivity, it also carries some heavy baggage. This tip discusses how email archiving can enable SMBs to decrease the costs associated with email, allow employees to increase focus on core business initiatives and avoid legal liabilities.

While email is arguably the best productivity tool ever created, because of its power, it also carries some baggage. The cost of storing emails is high, administrators and users spend too much time on email management and it can ultimately become a legal liability.

The IT department should keep four simple responsibilities in mind when it comes to managing email storage:

    Don't hurt user productivity
    Forcing small mailboxes is labor intensive and encourages personal archives

    Make sure you have a retention policy
    Document how long your company will allow users to keep email, and how long emails must be kept

    Ensure compliance with the retention policy
    The only thing worse than not having a policy is to have a policy and not follow it

    Be able to hold, search and discover stored emails
    Just saving the emails isn't enough. Keeping them on backup tapes is totally unmanageable because they aren't easily searchable or destroyed

To meet these requirements, your business will likely need an email retention and archival solution. But this isn't all bad and can provide many advantages to the business, including:

    An optimized email system
    Email archiving ensures that the mail databases are a manageable size. It eliminates the need for personal archives, which are a backup and compliance nightmare, and should reduce the primary storage requirements for the email system.

    Improved end user experience
    Like it or not, users want huge mailboxes. Forcing them to live in small mailboxes means that each person probably spends hours each week trying to keep the size under control. Email archiving will allow them to have nearly unlimited space without adversely impacting the mail system or creating personal archives.

    Legal discovery
    Email archiving will allow you to easily respond to requests for legal hold and discovery. This will improve your company's ability to fend off lawsuits and reduce the burden on IT.

    Compliance
    It's a fact that nearly every organization is regulated in some way. Email archiving provides a mechanism to define and comply with an electronic communications retention policy.

Several challenges face email administrators when they try to manage archiving in-house. While just selecting an archiving software product is daunting, you'll also have to select safe and affordable long-term archive storage. Once the system is in place, the responsibility of maintaining and verifying compliance becomes your own.

Many SMBs have found that outsourced email service providers reduce the risk of failed implementations, improve the speed of deployment and eliminate the high capital outlay required for new hardware and software. Once deployed, outsourced email archiving has lower administration costs and lets employees focus on core business initiatives.

Outsourcing email is not without risks. According to the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), outsourcing does not shield you from any liabilities of staying compliant. See the NASD Notice to Members 05-48 - July 2005. This means that you'll have to carefully check out potential outsourcers and follow up on them. There are several areas to check out when issuing an RFI to potential outsourcers, including:

    Integration
    Determine how they can extract email. Do they use journaling, stubbing or do they need to host your email service in order to archive it? Do they have personal archive ingestion tools? This will be an important feature when you are trying to eliminate existing PSTs. Do they support archiving of non-email systems like instant messaging, SharePoint or file servers? Is there support for Blackberry and other mobile user devices?

    Security
    Ensure that the outsourcer has good physical security over the infrastructure. Confirm that your data is transmitted and secured with encryption and that you have the only key required to access the data. Verify that they maintain audit logs for the data. This will be required to demonstrate chain of custody.

    Availability
    Check to make sure that the outsourcers have defined service-level agreements (SLAs) for unplanned and planned outages. Be certain that you can hold the service provider accountable for SLA breaches.

    Searchability
    In order to replace the user's personal archive, and not impede functionality, make sure that they will be able to search their archives natively from their mail client.

    E-discovery
    Determine how you will gain access to the archives for e-discovery activities. Ask the service provider how you will provide discovered data to the opposing council.

Outsourcing email won't be cheap. However, you can be certain that it will provide a good value when compared to non-compliance or lack of focus on core business initiatives. You'll pay for the service by mailbox or by gigabyte of data stored with extra charges for features like search and e-discovery capabilities.

About the author: Brian Peterson is an independent IT infrastructure analyst. He has a deep background in enterprise storage and open-systems computing platforms. He has consulted with hundreds of enterprise customers who struggled with the challenges of disaster recovery, scalability, technology refreshes and controlling costs.

This was first published in July 2008

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