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Email archiving strategies: Five best practices

Best practices for email archiving start with setting email retention policies -- and then sticking to them -- to help your company respond to legal discovery requests and lessen the burden on data storage systems.

Here are some best practices and strategies to follow when choosing and implementing an email archiving tool:

1. Seek buy-in from the legal/compliance team and business leaders when selecting an email archiving technology and setting retention policies.
Legal counsel/compliance officers know the regulations and requirements applying to the length of time the electronic data must be kept. Business managers know any special policies that need to be taken into account, such as product warranties.

2. Grant few, if any, exceptions to email archiving policies.
Exceptions can open the door for opposing counsel to challenge the validity of the information discovered in connection with a lawsuit.

Gregg Davis, CIO at Webcor Builder LP, said, in the past, his IT group exempted certain mailboxes from the company's policies if an executive took issue with the purge cycles or didn't like the way the system displayed archived messages. There were unfortunate consequences, when the company had to explain to the court why the policy varied among different groups of employees.

3. Enforce retention policies for the email stubs, or markers, for archived email.
Gartner recommends keeping stubs for 90 days to 180 days; retaining stubs for too long can impact email system performance.

Not all products delete the stubs, when the original files reach the end of its retention period, according to Laura DuBois, a program director at International Data Corp.

4. Control the use of PST/NSF files.
The files used to store local copies of messages -- known as PST files with Microsoft Corp. Exchange Server and NSF files with IBM's Notes Domino systems -- can become hazards for companies trying to enforce retention policies or search for electronic records during the legal discovery process.

Brian Hill, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., encouraged organizations to turn off the ability to create PST/NSF files. "Those files are fragmented across employee desktops, and should a litigation event hit your organization, searching across all of those PST or NSF files on individuals' desktops is a really expensive and complicated proposition," he said.

5. Seek out email archiving products that allow a broad range of unstructured content to be archived.
Email may be the most requested type of content in a litigation proceeding, but all electronically stored information is subject to legal discovery. Find an email archiving vendor that supports multiple types of data, including instant messages and calendar items.

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