Outsourcing email archiving: the pros and cons

Outsourcing your e-mail archiving is a good alternative if you want to avoid the hassle of implementing archiving yourself. But right now, service providers are falling short and need to expand their product portfolios to meet user demands.

E-mail archiving outsourcers falling short

Service providers need to catch up with the e-mail archiving needs of their customers.

Tired of mailbox quotas? Spending too much money on e-mail application servers and storage? The solution is easy: e-mail archiving. So why aren't more of you doing it? Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) estimates that 70% of you haven't deployed any form of e-mail archiving. Of those who did make an investment, what percentage of mailboxes did you archive--only 20% to 30%? In addition, many who use e-mail archiving software are doing so just because they have to.

That's a lot of rhetorical questions and figures, so let me spell things out a bit. There are tangible benefits to e-mail archiving, including complying with record-retention regulations and creating a searchable repository. But the most overlooked benefit is message application infrastructure optimization. For example, organizations that implement mailbox quotas to control storage costs essentially force employees to delete e-mails or create their own message archives in the form of .PST files. With e-mail archiving, mailboxes can be automatically groomed with older messages stubbed and stored on secondary storage. This reduces the cost to keep messages active and lets employees retain all messages. Mailbox archiving also reduces backup stress because older messages are removed from primary systems, reducing the amount of data to be protected on a regular basis.

When it comes time to budget for e-mail archiving, many of you may hesitate because of the time it takes to implement, and you might still only associate e-mail archiving with compliance or electronic discovery.

The first impediment, time to deployment, is easily solved: outsource. Just the mention of that word can stir up controversy but, in the realm of IT, outsourcing typically involves an organization transitioning a set of management tasks and processes to an external party. Cost and lack of in-house expertise are two reasons for an organization to consider outsourcing. Another is the time it takes to deploy a new technology. For example, when compliance beckoned, not all Wall Street players could dish out the cash needed to deploy e-mail archiving and its associated non-erasable, non-rewriteable storage systems. Many small brokers/dealers and mutual funds lacked IT departments to manage e-mail archiving software or storage systems. This opened the door to service providers who offered outsourced e-mail archiving services. Iron Mountain and Zantaz were among those service providers, and today they count several financial services firms among their clients.

Outsourcing e-mail archiving also became interesting when regulators and litigators began targeting message repositories for evidence in a variety of cases. ESG estimates that approximately 75% of electronic discovery events involve e-mails. While e-mails regarding Enron and Martha Stewart grabbed headlines, thousands of other organizations and their outside counsel have sifted through old and new e-mails to prepare for cases ranging from executive malfeasance to employer discrimination. Just as many financial services organizations weren't ready to manage e-mail as a business record, other organizations weren't prepared for the deluge of subpoenas that included discovery requests for messages. Many turned to e-mail archiving outsourcing; old messages were restored into an online archive and new e-mails were captured in real-time to create a repository that could be accessed by attorneys.

This leads to the second impediment of e-mail archiving adoption--the belief that the solution is strictly for compliance and legal discovery. This myth endures because many users who are interested in e-mail archiving turn to service providers that only have offerings built around compliance and litigation support. A customer can rarely find a service provider that offers mailbox management as a service.

Users who want to reap the benefits of e-mail archiving, but can't deploy it in-house, should demand it from service providers. And service providers should wake up and add offerings for those users who aren't subject to retention regulations or frequent electronic discovery events.

If the advantages of e-mail archiving for compliance were more apparent, many more users could measure the impact of reduced storage costs, longer online retention of historical e-mail (removal of mailbox quotas), faster data protection operations and other resource management benefits derived from e-mail archiving. Service providers could easily help organizations deliver the more IT-specific benefits of e-mail archiving. When asked, the top reason why users would consider using a service provider for e-mail archiving is to get a solution in place quickly, protect data offsite and reduce operating costs--not for compliance purposes. (See "Top five reasons why organizations would consider using an e-mail archiving service provider," above.)

It's hard to imagine the litigious business climate changing dramatically in the near term, and as long as e-mail is the primary means of workplace communication and collaboration, e-mail archiving solutions will be needed. Service providers have expanded their offerings to include e-mail data restoration from tape, and some have integrated litigation-support software with e-mail archiving apps to expand review and trial preparation processes. Other outsourcers have complemented archive offerings with data backup services. Service providers can also improve their offerings by archiving other types of content, including databases and files.

In the context of electronic discovery, attorneys have requested financial statements, medical records, digital images, and a host of other data that resides in databases and application files. E-mail has certainly been the most requested content type, but ESG expects that, over time, all data formats will be subject to discovery requests. It's never too early for organizations to prepare for the inevitable--all electronic data will be discoverable.

Resource management benefits, such as offloading production data from primary systems and retaining nontransactional data online at a lower cost, also apply to database and file archiving. In addition, other types of business records may be retained within these data formats and be subject to regulations such as HIPAA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. By consolidating archiving processes, organizations can compound the benefits of compliance, electronic discovery and resource management. Service providers can offload the risk and cost of deploying database and file archiving to help users achieve these benefits sooner.

E-mail archiving outsourcing has experienced rapid growth due primarily to external factors--regulatory compliance and electronic discovery. Four years ago, service providers offered a quick way for customers to retain messages without the headache and expense of deploying an in-house system. As the market for these services peaked, some service providers included message security and content-filtering services, but those features did little to sway buyers. Part of the blame falls on users failing to demand more resource-optimization services from outsourcers.

For users to experience all of the benefits e-mail archiving has to offer, they need to decide whether they want to do it in-house or with a service provider. But that's an argument for another day. Outsourcers must realize that a majority of users need services such as mailbox management, database and file-system archiving, litigation support and data protection.

Outsourcing may always provoke controversy, but if e-mail archiving service providers don't expand their portfolios, the only topics under discussion this time next year will be how many of these vendors will be left and where stranded customers will wind up. It's up to you to put pressure on these service providers to ensure that they not only meet your current needs, but can grow with you as well.

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