Many companies choose to do their own archiving, but others prefer to farm out the job. The company's email traffic, or a subset thereof, is uploaded to the service's servers, processed and stored for easy retrieval.
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Within this model, there are many variations. Some services download email databases daily, some do it in near real time, and most of them only download single instances of attachments to save bandwidth.
Web-based email archiving is especially attractive for organizations that must comply with regulations on email retention and storage. The companies offering this service not only store and organize the email, they do so in compliance with the appropriate regulations.
Archiving companies can usually provide an audit trail and certification of the email they handle. Having someone else establish the audit trail and be able to certify it offloads one task for storage administrators.
Of course, since the services are Web-based, anyone with the proper authorization can access the emails from any location. This can ease the process of retrieving emails for management or third parties, such as a company's attorneys.
Beyond that, there are several criteria for choosing a Web-based email archiving provider.
The stability, security and technical competence of the archiving service is critical. Investigate potential providers carefully. The consequences of a third-party failure in this area can be expensive and embarrassing.
Some email archiving products have very specific focuses. For example, For example, IT consulting company BeechTek offers its customers the ProMail email and IM online archiving service from EVault Inc., a Seagate company. ProMail is designed to meet the legal requirements of securities dealers, such as quickly retrieving the correspondence of licensed representatives under the National Association of Securities and Dealers (NASD) rules and regulations.
If you're in a regulated industry with specific archiving requirements, you should strongly consider a service that is geared to your industry's needs.
A company called MIAGD Inc. offers an archiving service called AdvisorEmail, which requires using its email servers for email service. According to the company, using its servers for archiving closes the last link in the audit chain, but a company using this service might have to modify its archiving procedures.
Beyond the match to your industry's requirements, you should also look at the features the services offers. Web-based archiving implies fast, speedy searches of emails. Can the vendor deliver? Can you do elaborate searches? Are relevant emails easy to extract?
One of the major differences between email archiving and simply backing up email databases is the ease of search and recovery of specific messages or classes of messages. The tradeoff is that email archiving is considerably more expensive that simple backup.
If all you need is very basic archiving, and you don't expect to have to access those emails often, or ever, then you're probably better off with your own archiving application, rather than a service.
Web-based email archiving works best for organizations that need to access their old emails constantly. For example, a large securities dealer that has a constant trickle of NASD-related requests might find Web-based archiving a preferable approach. A company in an unregulated industry that is archiving email "just in case" would probably find the cost-benefit ratio much less compelling.
About the author: Rick Cook specializes in writing about issues related to storage and storage management.