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Email archiving for SMBs: Outsourcing vs. in-house archiving

Even small businesses on low budgets need email archiving. For many organizations email is a mission-critical application, often the most mission-critical application.

For many organizations, email is often the most mission-critical application. If end users can't get to their email messages, including previous messages, critical information can be lost.

Then there are the compliance and litigation issues surrounding email. Every business may potentially be involved in litigation, where email increasingly plays a central role. The failure to archive and find all pertinent messages can have a devastating impact on the outcome of litigation and even result in costly fines.

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"People initially do email archiving using their Microsoft Exchange or Outlook folders, but they pretty soon need to get beyond that," said Brian Babineau, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass. Using folders for archiving requires considerable manual effort on the part of the users, and they don't necessarily do it very well. They end up not being able to find things or deleting messages that should have been saved.

There are other problems with using Exchange for email archiving. "You really want to get your messages outside of Exchange," said Babineau. Otherwise, as the email folders grow in size, performance slows and demands for costly storage increase. By archiving messages outside of Exchange, the organization can take advantage of lower cost disk while reducing the size of the Exchange data store, which speeds performance. Finally, "Exchange is not good for searching or e-discovery," said Babineau.

Email archiving choices: To outsource or keep in in-house

An organization has two choices with email archiving: outsourcing it to an online managed service or licensed archiving software running in-house. The online managed services are easy to get up and running. The licensed archiving software option requires the organization set up the archiving server and storage, manage it and back it up. "The managed service approach is good for organizations with fewer than 1000 mailboxes," said Babineau. With more than that, the organization should look at licensing archive software.

Barbara Jean's Restaurants, a small seafood chain based in Jacksonville, Fla., turned to email archiving for litigation protection. "There are always issues around email. We wanted email archiving to protect ourselves," said Jim Tilbrook, vice president of finance at Barbara Jean's Restaurants. The company has about 25 Exchange mailboxes for its corporate and restaurant managers. But after looking around, it opted for LiveOffice, an online managed email archiving product.

"We have a part-time IT person, and he looked at doing it in-house. He said he can't do it at the price we would pay LiveOffice," said Tilbrook. LiveOffice email archiving rates start at $8 per month per user and go down from there. In addition, the LiveOffice service comes with features for backup, search and e-discovery that the in-house IT person would have been hard pressed to deliver consistently.

Palm Beach County, Fla., a midsized organization, chose licensed on-premise archiving software. The organization moved to Microsoft Exchange in 2007 and planned to implement an email archiving product at the same time. Previously, it had been using Novell Inc.'s Groupwise for email, but its archiving capabilities were limited and required considerable manual effort, reported Santhosh Samuel, server manager for the Palm Beach County's Information Support Services office.

The Palm Beach County rejected the online archiving services. "We wanted to keep everything internal for security reasons," said Samuel. After looking at archiving products from the big players -- EMC, Symantec, CommVault -- it opted for Mimosa Systems Inc.'s NearPoint product. Once the product was up and running it enabled the County "to cut in half the time we spent on e-discovery, and at a cost that came out to a few dollars per mailbox," Samuel added.

Some small organizations may think they are doing email archiving for free. Manually manipulating message folders, however, is hardly archiving, and there is cost and risk involved. With numerous vendors offering either online archiving or on-premise software, an SMB can surely find a legitimate archiving product at a low price.

About this author: Alan Radding is a frequent contributor to

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