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What does email archiving software offer that a general archiving product does not? And is it advisable to use email-specific archiving software, or is it better to try to find a product that meets all of your needs?
The most obvious difference is that email archiving software focuses on messages rather than files. That isn't to say that email archiving software doesn't deal with files at all, however. Because files of varying types are often attached to email messages, a good message archiving product needs to be able to look inside of those attachments.
Almost any archiving product is designed to prevent the archived data from being tampered with, and email archiving software is no exception. Email archiving products use a variety of encryption techniques, and the messages are usually locked away in a database for safe keeping. It is worth noting that some email archiving products continue to allow users to have seamless read-only access to their messages even after those messages have been archived. Such a feature typically requires integration with a mail client such as Outlook or Outlook Web Access, which is another way in which email archiving software differs from other types of archiving software.
Typically, email archiving software features a very rich e-discovery engine. The e-discovery engine allows a designated person to perform advanced queries against massive quantities of mail in an effort to locate precisely the messages that are needed. Once these messages are located, the software allows them to be exported to either to a PST file or to a proprietary file format.
Another feature that is sometimes found in email archiving software, but that does not always exist in general purpose archiving software, is a content retention policy. Various regulations require companies to retain messages for a specific length of time. Once the required retention period expires, it is in the company's best interest to get rid of old messages. The content retention policy mechanism typically allows for automatic purging of expired messages.
As to whether it is advisable to choose an email archiving-specific product, it really depends on an organization's unique needs. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.
One of the main advantages to the all-in-one approach is that purchasing a single piece of software is often far less expensive than purchasing individual single-task applications.
Another advantage to using the all-in-one approach is that the experience is seamless. Multiple functions (such as backup and archiving) are performed through a single application. This may help to reduce the learning curve and lessen the chances of encountering compatibility problems, which can be an issue when using software from multiple vendors.
On the other hand, there is certainly something to be said for using individual applications as well. For starters, all-in-one packages tend to cover the basics, but may lack some of the more advanced features noted above. Purchasing individual applications for each task gives you the flexibility to choose applications that contain exactly the features you need. Furthermore, if an application is dedicated to one specific task (such as email archiving), then odds are that the software probably performs that task well.