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Hosted email archiving services meets SMB's growing needs

Hosted email archiving services have matured and are often more reliable than what SMBs can provide onsite. This tip provides questions to ask when evaluating an email archiving product.

New York-based Needham and Company might be an SMB, but as CIO Chris Ricciuti has found, when it comes to records retention and email archiving, size doesn't matter.

"We're an investment bank regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and therefore, even though we only have 200 employees, we still have to retain, or archive, our email for seven years," Ricciuti said.

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The Needham IT team had originally tried to do this task in-house, but quickly found that it was too taxing on their already stretched staff. "The on-premise approach was an administrative nightmare between the initial cost, installing the hardware and software, and assigning ongoing management resources," he said.

To alleviate the burden on his team, Ricciuti subscribed to Proofpoint Inc.'s email archiving Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Now he simply has an appliance on site connected to his mail server, which journals all email and sends it to the Proofpoint data center. He said the benefits were immediate: "Everything runs transparent to us, so I've freed up the person who used to spend a lot of time on the onsite archive and we've gotten a lot more stability and functionality."

Brian Babineau, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass., said Ricciuti is not alone in turning to hosted email archiving. "A lot of SMBs are realizing they need to store email for regulatory, compliance or legal reasons, but know they don't have the administrative staff or budget to deal with the ever-growing infrastructure archiving requires," he said.

Hosted email archiving services have matured over the past few years and are often more reliable than what an SMB can provide onsite, according to Babineau. "There's a two-fold issue for many SMBs: Do they have enough staff to get it up and running and, more importantly, do they have the resources to keep the archive infrastructure running over the long haul? They have to realize that oftentimes the archive environment can be larger than their primary storage environment," he said.

Other examples of hosted email archiving services include: Dell Inc.'s MessageOne service, Iron Mountain Inc., LiveOffice and Mimecast.

Pricing is tricky because it depends whether you pay monthly, yearly, by user or by storage amount. For instance, LiveOffice offers pricing anywhere from $8.95 per mailbox and 100 MB of storage to $14.95 per mailbox and 4 GB of storage. Also, some SMBs are choosing to just add an archiving module to their other managed services platforms.

Andrew Cook, information systems director at Florida-based Amelia Island Plantation, knows this all too well. Although his company, which manages resort properties on Amelia Island, is private and does not fall under any regulatory mandate, the executive management and staff rely on archives for the 420 Microsoft Exchange mailboxes to track guest relation queries, interactions with condo association leaders, employee issues and other critical communications. "Our primary Exchange environment did not have anything built in that could handle these requirements on a convenient and easy-to-use scale," he said.

Cook opted for Symantec Corp.'s MessageLabs email archiving SaaS, which also features an appliance that hooks onto his Exchange Server and connects to MessageLabs' data center. "Since we were already using MessageLabs for our spam and virus filtering, this was a good fit and I don't have to manage a thing," he said.

Cook also likes the fact that with SaaS, archiving becomes an operations cost, not a capital expenditure. "There is a lot of competition for the capital budget because we're a private resort. IT projects are not easy to get approved against golf course upgrades and roof fixes," he said.

Additionally, the hosted service provides business continuity in case of an Exchange outage. "Prior to implementing this service, I didn't have the facilities do mailbox restores so if someone lost an email I had no way of restoring it," he said.

Another benefit has been the ability to have business stakeholders search for critical email themselves. "This is important from a legal standpoint, because now they can dynamically sift through all mailbox stores based on certain criteria without IT intervention," he said.

E-discovery is driving email archiving services

In fact, e-discovery is one of the biggest drivers pushing SMBs to archiving services, according to Babineau. "Today, 80% of discovery events involve email," he said. Therefore, companies need services that enable legal, HR and other departments to easily search archives.

Today, 80% of discovery events involve email.
Brian Babineau
senior analystEnterprise Strategy Group

Before IT teams sign up for a service, they should allow stakeholders to test-drive the search engine. "We brought our compliance department into the service trial to make sure the interface met their needs," Ricciuti said.

He also recommends looking at the technology behind the service. For instance, Proofpoint enables companies to set a policy that replaces attachments over a certain size with a link. "Options like these save a tremendous amount of storage space," he said.

However, Ricciuti warns not to get too caught up in the bells and whistles that service providers offer. "Only sign up for what you need because otherwise you'll end up overpaying. Also, the simpler you keep the service, the less support you'll need for end users," he said.

Babineau agrees, saying SMBs should focus on service-level agreements (SLAs) and whether there are hidden costs such as implementation or retrieval fees. "The most technical thing that users should care about is whether the provider stores their data on non-erasable, non-rewritable WORM storage -- and that's only for compliance reasons," he says.

How to evaluate your email archiving SaaS

When evaluating an email archiving product, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you want unlimited or fixed storage? If you have limits on the storage space available on the provider's network, then you'll want to make sure they have a way to help you cut down on your storage needs in your messaging environment. For instance, do they put in pointers for duplicate attachments rather than storing all attachments?

2. Do your users find the interface user-friendly? For these tools to be most effective, you'll want to give Web access to certain employees so they can perform compliance and other searches on their own. Therefore, make sure they are able to trial the service before you sign on to test the technology.

3. Can you bundle your email archiving with other hosted services? Most likely, you'll want help with more than just archiving so consider a larger bundle that includes other managed options such as content filtering or anti-spam and antivirus. This strategy might lower your total TCO.

4. How is your data protected? Ask your provider for details about how your data is digitally and physically safeguarded. For instance, do they use WORM storage and have adequate protections on the storage arrays and servers? Also, inquire about their business continuity and disaster recovery plans.

5. Can they migrate your current archive? If you've already started down the archive path in-house, you'll want to choose a service that enables you to easily move that data over to the provider's data center.

Sandra Gittlen is a freelance technology editor in the greater Boston area. She can be reached at

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