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Cloud-based email archiving pros and cons

What you will learn in this tip: Cloud-based archiving is an attractive proposition for many organizations, especially small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). However, before you start using the cloud for data archiving, there are some things you need to consider. Learn the pros and cons of cloud-based archiving in this tip.

How much will the cloud-based archiving service cost?

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The cost of a cloud archiving service depends on the offerings from each vendor, but typical monthly costs range from 25 cents to $12 per gigabyte. The cheapest cloud archive vendors are basically selling you disk space, leaving most of the management of your archive to you.

Higher-end services can include specialties such as e-discovery, and vendors can provide you with tools for organizing and sorting your archived files and emails. For example, a cloud-based email archiving service could allow users to sort emails by person or group, date, subject, key phrases, or some combination of these and other factors.

Obviously price is important in picking a cloud archiving vendor, but getting the features you need is even more critical. Investigate costs and features carefully.

What does the SLA say?

In the cloud, the services you are entitled should be spelled out by your service-level agreement (SLA). Generally, if it's not in the SLA, you're not entitled to it. Read the SLA carefully and make changes as needed. Some other things to look out for in your SLA are phrases like “reasonable time," compensation without specifying the amount, or how it is to be calculated.

Pay special attention to the provisions for getting your data back in the event the vendor fails or is taken over by another vendor. The 451 Group notes that consolidation is likely in the near future, especially in the messaging archive area. You need to make sure you're protected in the event of major changes.

What do you need to archive?

According to the 451 Group, most cloud archiving today is centered on message-based archiving, particularly email. If your archiving needs are message-centric, you will have a lot of choices for your cloud archive, such as LiveOffice.

Other vendors, such as Informatica Corp., offer cloud archiving services optimized for databases or other applications. However, if you need to archive a broader range of data, your current choices are much more limited. While there are companies like Tarmin Inc., with its GridBank Archiver, that specialize in file system archiving, they are not as common as vendors specializing in other archival services. Still, it can be worth the effort to find the vendor which meets your needs: Email archive services are a poor match for general archiving so you're better off going with a company specializes in archiving the kind of data you want to protect.

What are the chances you'll need to do discovery on the archive?

Discovery, whether for a court proceeding or a regulatory request, is a fact of life for many modern enterprises. If you're likely to need to dig through the archive to recover documents relating to a specific topic or created by specific individuals, you need an archiving service with powerful search features designed for discovery. For example Symantec Corp.'s Enterprise Vault.cloud provides easy e-discovery and legal holds, as well as collaborative review and categorization to help sort through large volumes of email messages. Some archiving services specialize in discovery (and charge more for those features), while other vendors are more suited to general archiving with limited search for a lower cost.

What regulatory requirement do you have to meet?

Enterprises vary widely in the rules they live under. The SEC, HIPPA, the EPA and a host of other agencies have specific requirements for things like data retention and privacy of information. Make sure your prospective cloud archiving vendor can meet the standards you must live under.

Remember, no matter who actually stores your data, you are ultimately responsible for seeing that it is stored in a way that meets the regulators' requirements. It's important that you do due diligence on potential vendors and not just accept undefined assurances.

Where will your data be stored?

There are a host of state and national privacy rules that must be met in relation to where your customer's data is stored. If your archive is to be kept in another state, or worse, another country, you need to make sure it will be stored in compliance with the privacy laws you operate under. Again, you're the one who is liable if the laws are violated.

How fast can your data be recovered?

If you need to get some of your data back you will usually need it within a set period of time. While this isn't as big a problem as it is with cloud backup, bandwidth limitations may slow down recovery to a matter of days or even weeks. Some vendors, however, will ship your data back to you on a hard disk to allow for faster recovery.

Does the vendor meet your security needs?

It's important that the cloud-based email archiving vendor can protect your data end-to-end. Generally that means encryption from the point of origin and while the data is stored in the cloud. The vendor should also be able to provide adequate physical security. Again, check the security policies and see if they are adequate for your needs.

About this author: Rick Cook is a frequent contributor to SearchDataBackup.

This was first published in July 2011

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