Email archive services explained

In this email archive services podcast, Ian Lock of GlassHouse Technologies looks at the pros and cons of outsourcing email archiving.

Email archive services allow customers to get to grips with often difficult to manage email infrastructures. Email archiving services move messages to a service provider's storage, and then index and manage email data. They can make life much easier for organisations where email management is often a headache, but they can bring challenges, too.

In this interview, Bureau Chief Antony Adshead speaks with Ian Lock, service director for storage and backup at GlassHouse Technologies UK, about email archive services, the features they offer, as well as their pros and cons.

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Lock: Email archiving services, in this context, are message storage facilities provided by a third-party services company over the Internet, rather than an in-house deployment of servers, software and storage. For simplicity, let's call them cloud email archiving services.

A cloud email archiving service provider provides an externally hosted solution that manages all email message flows into and out of your email servers, and stores these messages for long-term compliance and search purposes.

Customers have only to provide the necessary host and domain addresses for their in-house messaging servers, along with the required credentials, so that the cloud hosted systems can forward and send message traffic to the correct destination. The cloud service provider supplies and manages all necessary servers, application software, storage capacity, and backup or replication protection so that customer data is fully protected.

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How email archiving services work and how to select a service

These services remove the need for companies to purchase, manage and support their own servers, software and storage systems specifically for email archiving. Such solutions can be complex to manage and costly, as they involve separate application servers and large storage repositories, so cloud hosted solutions can be particularly attractive for smaller companies.

Demand is being driven by the tightening of legislation in the US and EU, over the last eight or so years, requiring a broader range of companies to be able to produce email and other data records upon request by regulatory authorities or by customers under freedom of information and data protection laws.

Typically, cloud email archiving services support all the most popular messaging systems such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise and basic Sendmail. Many services can also archive and search instant messenger traffic, which is becoming more important as this and similar tools are used increasingly for business communications. Many services provide compression, and file- or object-level data deduplication functionality that can help reduce the overall size and improve the efficiency of the offline archive store.

Most services allow customers to import data into the hosted archive from existing mail databases and some allow the import of users' PST files. This can be a great benefit to companies struggling with email size limitations and quotas, which often lead users to create large PST files and store them locally on their laptops or workstations. Such locally stored, uncontrolled PST file archives can present real problems as they can hold vital company information, but they may not be backed up while being stored on single, unprotected disk drives. What are the pros and cons of email archive services compared to using an email archive product?

Lock: The pros of externally hosted email archiving services are lower operating costs, for example, through lower hardware and software support costs, lower staffing costs -- as fewer technologies and systems need to be supported internally -- and also lower training costs. Hosted email archiving services also reduce the complexity of companies' IT environments, allowing IT managers and administrators to concentrate on business-facing and revenue-generating applications and services.

Hosted email archiving services are also simple to expand as capacity requirements grow; there is no long-winded purchasing of additional servers and storage, followed by installation, configuration and troubleshooting, just a request to expand the capacity provided by the provider.

The main con comes with the model itself. When you give your data to an external provider, you commit to a degree of 'lock-in.' But what happens when you want to change your provider, perhaps to obtain lower costs or to move to an improved service? It may have been easy to upload terabytes of data to your provider, which has then grown over time, but it can be very difficult to extract that data from the provider. What happens if the provider goes out of business or exits the market? Do you get a bunch of tapes back with your data? Also, there may be compliance concerns; for example, does the third-party solution meet legislative restrictions in your particular country?

An interesting alternative solution is to do just the opposite -- that is to keep the email archive in-house but to use a cloud-based email service. That way you can keep relatively small standard mailboxes hosted in the cloud, with the guaranteed service levels that go along with cloud email services, and keep the large archive in-house where it can be controlled and managed in line with local laws.

As with many emerging cloud-based applications, email archiving currently probably best suits small- to medium-sized companies that have limited IT resources and so can benefit greatly from offloading some of their more complex tasks to third-party providers. Larger enterprises will most likely want to keep control of their archives in-house until these cloud services have matured somewhat.


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