Ten considerations for email archiving - Part 2

We conclude our piece on ten email archiving considerations, with considerations six through ten!


  1. What about De-duplication?
    De-duplication is a hot topic and most email archiving vendors were early adopters of this capacity-saving technology. Email archivers that support De-duplication will store only one copy of duplicate messages to conserve space and then link the messages in the archive. Some applications apply this only to entire messages, while others "crack" the message objects apart, de-duplicating attachments separately, which saves even more space.
  1. Will the legal department be happy?
    Although not all email archiving is performed to adhere to regulations, you must be prepared for a possible lawsuit that involves legal holds (this places a lock on certain emails) and ediscovery. Some archives produce exception logs and reports, and support extra-secure back-end storage to ensure that any content produced from them will satisfy the demands of litigation.

    EMC's Ferguson points out that records of an archive system can be even more important than user meta data. "Who accessed the archive and what they looked at can be critical," says Ferguson. "This goes to the deletion policy as well; the system must keep track of every deletion that happens to prove that the archive is operating according to collection and retention policies." Some archiving applications can produce chain-of-custody reports for exported content, while others have security features such as encryption and SAS 70 security compliance audits.

    If legal is interested in email archiving, they're probably looking for litigation-hold functionality. When a legal action seems imminent, they must instruct IT to hold a set of content in an immutable form in case legal discovery is required.

    Some archiving applications include native litigation-hold features, but their granularity varies. Hold could apply to an individual object, a message, a folder, a user, a mailbox or an entire mail store, but not all systems can handle this variety. "Some can't place a litigation hold on individual items and need to hold an entire mailbox or message store to ensure that retention rules are stopped," claims Bill Tolson, director of legal and regulatory solutions marketing at Mimosa Systems.

    You should also determine if the system can handle multiple overlapping holds and change the scope of a hold without releasing it. Finally, the legal department might have different expectations about how to specify a hold; check with them to see if they have any unique requirements.

    Even if your archiving system of choice includes native legal-hold and search functionality, you may have to integrate it with a third-party tool. Not all archiving applications offer legal-hold and search features that are granular and flexible enough for real-world use, especially if your organisation faces frequent legal action, so you might have to replace it with a more specialised legal-hold tool.

    The process of declaring and releasing a legal hold can be complex. Holds normally cover a range of dates and systems, and the scope can change as discussions between the parties take place. Usually, a specialised third-party legal-hold program offers more functionality than one that's part of the archive application.

    Another frequent objection to integrated hold-and-search features is the preference of the legal team. E-discovery has become common in the last decade, so most attorneys have gone through the process a few times by now. It's likely their past experience with specialised litigation support software will lead them to request that solution instead of an unfamiliar one bundled with an email archiving system.

  1. How does search work?
    The search capabilities of archiving applications--which may be a critical feature for ediscovery--vary from product to product. Consider how your legal group conducts searches today; they may be very specific about what they're looking for or might want a more iterative process, such as nesting searches within searches until a set of messages is isolated. Try out the search function with the legal team to see if it works in ways they might want to use it.

    "Our legal team is hooked on ediscovery," comments one administrator at a well-known business who asked to remain anonymous. "They are making many more queries and becoming better at asking more refined questions as they become familiar with the email archive's capabilities." This helps to protect the company and reduce ediscovery costs.

    Consider the technicalities of the search function. Can it search across mailboxes or repositories? Requiring multiple searches might reduce the utility of the archive and content might be missed. Not all archiving systems can quickly and efficiently search a large data set. Try a query on a massive data set to judge the responsiveness of the archiver's search function.

  1. Can the archive easily integrate with third-party tools?
    In most cases, the email archiving system will become an essential part of your infrastructure, so consider how well it will integrate with other elements. Can the archive integrate with your user account management and access control system? What about your reporting, logging and audit tools? These features could become critical stumbling blocks as the product is rolled out across a large organisation.

    Note that the level of integration between archives and legal tools varies. Most archives can export a set of messages in a PST file for use by e-discovery tools, while others can directly tie in with the most popular tools with direct database access and APIs. The latter can be far more flexible and efficient, and organisations with frequent legal searches and favourite tools will benefit from this type of integration.

  1. What will users think?
    There's a spectrum of email client integration: some archives offer no integration and rely on a Web browser interface for archive access, while others use toolbars, executable extensions for certain clients or archive folders pushed from the mail server. Regardless of the technology used, consider the user's reaction (see "What users want," below). How will their interaction with their email client change once the archive is in place? If executable extensions are required to be installed on client machines, consider the impact of this rollout.

    Think about the alternative email clients in use. Most organisations offer Web email clients, but some archiving systems don't integrate with those. Many users also access their mail using mobile devices such as BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, iPhone and Symbian. However, most archiving systems have little or no mobile device integration beyond Web access, and these sites are sometimes poorly formatted or too graphically complex for mobile browsers. Off-line access is another key differentiator. If a user can access their archived messages while on a plane, they'll be far more likely to accept the system.

    This article didn't cover the technical elements about product applicability to different storage environments, which are paramount considerations. Can, for example, the archiving application handle the size of your email system and the number of messages sent and received daily? Also consider whether the archiving product supports the operating systems and geographical layout of your email system. Not all email archiving solutions are able to scale equally.

 What users want

The No. 1 factor in positioning an email archiving project for success is user acceptance. If your system can deliver in the following three areas, you'll have much happier users.

  • COMPLETE INTEGRATION. Will the user see an unfamiliar Web link or a reassuring Outlook or Notes window? This is the first question most users ask when they're being trained to use a new archiving system, and one that every IT pro should keep in mind when selecting a product. The less hassle and more familiarity, the better the user experience will be.
  • OFFLINE ACCESS. Can a user access the archive when they're on a plane? A system that cuts users off from the bulk of their mail just because they're not on the network is bound to generate complaints. It might also lead them to start "underground archives" in PST or NSF files, undermining your record-retention policy. While administrators can disable the creation of these personal archives, this further frustrates offline users with no access to their historic messages.
  • MOBILE ACCESS. If you give users all of their mail no matter where they are or how they access the system, they'll love it. This is especially true when it comes to PST ingestion; the ability to access their personal historical mail from the Web on their BlackBerry is a powerful benefit that users will instantly understand and embrace.


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