How to Choose the Best E-mail Archiving Solution for Your Enterprise

An increasing number of enterprises are investigating e-mail archiving solutions due to regulatory compliance, legal discovery and storage management issues. Understanding how to evaluate these e-mail archiving solutions is critical if you want to effectively address these business challenges. Knowledge Center contributor Rick Dales explains how to choose the best e-mail archiving solution for your enterprise.


If you are not already considering an e-mail archiving solution, your organization will likely face this decision soon. In most organizations, selection of an e-mail archiving solution is the responsibility of the IT department. However, many other stakeholders, including legal, records management and the end-user community, must be considered.

Before embarking on an e-mail archiving solution, IT professionals need to understand a range of business and technology issues-from the key reasons for e-mail archiving to the best type of e-mail archive solution to meet those needs. Understanding the reasons why your organization needs an e-mail archiving solution and how to choose one that fits your needs will play a key role in choosing the right solution for your enterprise.

Why archive?

Everything about your firm's business lives somewhere in e-mail, the most commonly used form of corporate communication. Data that impacts revenue, the history of business decisions, even missteps that could impact your company's reputation-it all flows freely through e-mail. With all of this at stake, it's not surprising that e-mail is subject to a growing range of legal, regulatory compliance and business requirements. Couple that with the fact that e-mail tends to be a "storage hog," and organizations have a challenge that's not going away.

By providing a secure, searchable and centralized repository for e-mail, an archive can address the full range of legal, regulatory, business and storage challenges presented by e-mail. These challenges, and the opportunities presented by e-mail archiving solutions, are explored in more detail below.

Electronic discovery and litigation

One of the most important considerations for businesses, regardless of size or industry, is the issue of electronic search and discovery. Electronic discovery usually refers to the retrieval of data from a computer to meet a legal request. However, the term can also be used whenever data retrieval is required for regulatory compliance, human resources concerns, validation of client correspondence or other corporate needs. As a result, all organizations can benefit from search and discovery capabilities for e-mail-even if they are not currently involved in litigation.

Recently, the electronic discovery burden on IT organizations has increased both in frequency and demand. In fact, it was recently found that 66 percent of IT organizations have referred to e-mail archives or backup tapes to support their organization's innocence in a legal case. And 63 percent of organizations have been ordered by a court or regulatory body to produce employee e-mail. This is not surprising when you consider that e-mail is just as admissible in court as paper-based documents and can be requested for legal discovery at any time. In fact, e-mail evidence has been the "smoking gun" in numerous cases of illegal corporate activity.

Saving time and expense

Without an archiving system with appropriate search and discovery capabilities, these requests consume a great deal of time, effort and expense on the part of the entire organization. The IT department in a typical large organization spends 5 hours per 1,000 users per week performing backups, recovering users' deleted e-mails, and dealing with other backup and archiving-related tasks. That works out to approximately $10 per user per year on labor alone. For smaller organizations, it's an estimated cost of up to $34 per user per year-for just the labor involved in managing backups and archiving.

Cost isn't the only concern when retrieving data for a discovery request. In most cases, a strict time limit is enforced when data must be produced. For example, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission generally requires that e-mail be produced within 48 hours of a request. Failure to produce requested e-mail in a reasonable timeframe can result in significant fines.

Without an e-mail archiving discovery system, it is also difficult to limit searches for appropriate data before presenting to litigators, creating opportunities for unnecessary data to be exposed. Ultimately, the cost of innocence can be extremely high for organizations that do not proactively manage e-mail usage and archiving.

Regulatory compliance

In recent years, archiving of e-mail messages has become a business requirement driven by numerous federal and state regulations, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, SEC 17a 3-4, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules. With more than 10,000 regulations on data and record retention currently in force in North America, very few businesses are exempt from some form of regulatory scrutiny.

These regulations are forcing businesses to retain e-mail just as they must retain other formal corporate records-or face penalties that can include significant fines or even criminal charges. With a policy-driven archiving system in place, e-mail can be checked for compliance with regulations, and then retained for the appropriate amount of time based on e-mail content. These solutions can also reduce the risk of inappropriate content being exchanged, as employees can be alerted when an e-mail doesn't comply with company policy.

Storage management

Nearly every IT department has struggled with the issue of storage management for messaging servers. The pressure to increase storage capacity continues to grow as the amount of e-mail sent each day, as well as the size of messages and attachments, increases. This ever-increasing storage demand is driven in part by faster connection speeds and partly by the fact that e-mail's role as a primary channel for corporate communication continues to expand. This growth is not expected to slow down in the near future. In fact, it is estimated that corporate e-mail traffic will almost double between 2005 and 2009-increasing from 64.9 billion to 120 billion messages a day.

An archiving system, by automatically offloading data into an archive, can dramatically improve the efficiency of messaging servers and make management processes such as backups easier.

Knowledge management

Beyond the capacity issues associated with storage management, e-mail has also become the de facto filing system for many enterprises. As much as 60 percent of business-critical information is stored in e-mail and other electronic messaging tools. Everything from sales proposals and marketing plans to competitor profiles, contracts and personnel files can exist-sometimes exclusively-in an employee's in-box.

Maintaining an archive that allows users to easily access and search all previous e-mail can greatly improve productivity. In addition, a disgruntled employee cannot delete vital content. In the event of an employee leaving the company, the trail of information managed by that staff member can be accessed in the future.