Cloud email archiving services: Users reveal the good, bad and the ugly

Cloud email archiving services promise low upfront costs, unlimited capacity, and ease of use. We talked to a couple users to see if the products are living up to the hype.

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that face growing email archiving challenges may consider online or cloud email archiving as an alternative to an in-house system. Cloud vendors highlight the low upfront costs, ease of use and unlimited storage capacity benefits these services offer.

According to Brian Babineau, a senior consulting analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, some archiving hardware and software vendors are joining the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-only providers in the cloud email archiving market. "We are already seeing vendors -- including Symantec Corp., Iron Mountain and Autonomy -- offer [in-house and cloud] options," Babineau said in an email to "I would expect more soon. It makes sense to give customers deployment options."

But how have cloud archiving services performed in the real world? We talked to a couple of cloud email archiving users to find out.

Environmental Defense Fund turns to Mimecast's cloud archiving service

Brian Attas had too many emails in his company's Exchange environment, and the problem promised to only get worse. It was so bad he was restricting his users' mailbox sizes, and his IT team was training users how to create personal storage folders (PSTs) as archives.

Attas is the chief information officer of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an environmental advocacy organization with 10 offices across the United States. "We were looking at archiving solutions because we have just an ungodly amount of email in the organization, and to manage that we started to put limits on mailboxes sizes," Attas said.

"Then the offshoot of that was we had to show people how to create PST files so they could have archives for their mail, so it wasn't all sitting on the mail server. But then we have to back up all these PST files off the local machines." And when it came time to find old email messages, users had to search their Exchange mailboxes and their PST folders at the same time.

Once the decision was made to acquire an archiving solution, Attas and his team had to decide if they would implement a solution in-house or go to the cloud. His team's first inclination was to do it themselves because once they placed responsibility for email archiving outside the organization, they feared losing control. And they were lead to believe storage is cheap. "Everyone says disk is cheap," Attas said, "but SANs aren't so cheap these days." Attas looked at in-house products from Jatheon Technologies Inc. and Symantec's Enterprise Vault, but decided he didn't want the headache of administering an archive system.

He decided to explore cloud email archiving services and initially looked at Google Inc.'s Message Discovery email archiving service. But he was concerned about Google's business model and where his data would be. "With Google, there is always a concern about where your information could be, and where it could possibly end up," Attas said.

He eventually chose Mimecast North America Inc., and EDF has been with them for 15 months. "With Mimecast, this is their business," Attas said. "They've built this thing out from the ground up based on archiving."

I don't have to worry about any additional hardware with maintenance contracts and things of that nature.


Brian Attas
CIOEnvironmental Defense Fund

Mimecast intercepts customer email flowing in and out of the customers' Exchange server, and offers antivirus, spam and policy control services in addition to email archiving. "Mimecast simplifies our own processes and equipment that we use to get email to and from our Exchange environment," Attas said. "They provide a lot of different avenues for email to get to us, so we have some business continuity built in there." And so far he's happy. "The system has worked very well," Attas said.

Attas said the best part about using a cloud email archiving service is the peace of mind. "I don't have to worry about backing it up; I don't have to worry about any additional hardware with maintenance contracts and things of that nature," Attas said. "They handle the back-end processing in terms of the full-text indexing capabilities and they have more resources to manage these things." Mimecast also has more search and administrative options, too.

The downsides of cloud email archiving services

As far as downsides to cloud archiving, Attas said the biggest downside is the unknown. You have to do your homework and ask the right questions. Who has physical and network access to your data? What security measures are in place? How does the cloud vendor keep your data from being hacked or copied onto a USB drive and walked out the door? "You do your due diligence; you check with people; you check with existing clients; but you just don't really know how it's going to work out in your environment," Attas said.

Another problem is legacy email messages. Mimecast's service starts when you sign up; it doesn't automatically migrate existing messages into its system. Attas is in the middle of a legacy message "ingestion" project that he believes will take another seven weeks. Mimecast shipped him an encrypted drive on which he put all of the EDF's old emails after stuffing them into PST files. Attas sent the disk back at the beginning of September and expects Mimecast to complete the migration process around the beginning of November. Until then he has not lifted the EDF users' mailbox size limitations or deleted any old messages.

Attas said that you need to know your way around SMTP gateways and policies for the initial set up, and to effectively use the Mimecast admin interface, so nontechnical SMB owners looking at cloud email archiving might quickly get lost. But overall, he said, it is easy to use. "We were pleasantly surprised that it's working out so well," Attas said. uses Backupify to simplify backup and archiving

John Daly, webmaster for, needed a backup and archiving solution for his company. is an information and resource center for parents, and publishes a number of healthcare articles primarily written by the website's founder, a neonatal intensive care nurse. The company uses Google Apps and Gmail for its primary business applications and email system. "A lot of our website information, our articles, just our basic structure of our website is all stored on Google Sites," Daly said. "All of our documentation is stored on Google Docs. We all pretty much use Google on our cell phones for calendar, email, pretty much everything." It also uses for project management and Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for social media marketing and user interaction.

Daly used Backupify's social media backup service for six months before he asked to beta-test Backupify's planned automated Google Apps backup service. "Backupify was the only program that I saw out there where we could back up Google Apps," Daly said. That was three months ago, and Daly has continued to use Backupify to protect all of's Google Apps, Gmail, Basecamp and social media services.

If somebody were to lose an important email, or delete it by accident, or want to recover an old email from sometime back, then I could go back to Backupify and retrieve it.


John Daly

Backupify archives each Gmail account through the backup service. "What's good about [the email service] is that everything is combined and they are all together," Daly said, "so when I pull [the administration screen], every email account comes up."

Daly said the ease of administration and peace of mind are the top advantages of using a cloud email archiving service. "It's pretty automated," Daly said. "All you do is enter an email address and it sends a confirmation email [to that email address]. The user replies to the email and it starts backing up and archiving."

Daly said he doesn't have to worry about backup windows, hardware failures or software crashes. He knows all of his users' emails are protected if they actually delete important messages or in the unlikely case of a Google Gmail failure. "If somebody were to lose an important email, or delete it by accident, or want to recover an old email from sometime back, then I could go back to Backupify and retrieve it."

The account setup took fewer than 10 minutes, Daly said, as do user additions." I definitely didn't think it would be as easy as it was," Daly said. For downsides, Daly points to potential cost and scalability issues. "I do think on a mass scale, for each individual user and small business owner, it might be a little bit pricy," he said.

Backupify uses Amazon Web Services LLC's Simple Storage Service (S3) on the backend, which rents storage for $.15 per gigabyte. Backupify has three packages for its business service, ranging from $9.95 per month for 10 Google Apps accounts and 25 GB of storage to $59.95 per month for up to 50 Google Apps accounts and 250 GB of storage. So, the cheapest Backupify account is approximately $.24 per gigabyte of storage, much more than Amazon charges per gigabyte for just storage. Pricing for backing up social media assets ranges from 2 GB of storage for free to $59.95 per year for 25 GB of storage. Daly said it's worth it to him. "I look at it from a different perspective because of what it provides me," Daly said. "It saves me time, and then I don't have to worry about backing up."

If you have more than 10 users, Daly said this type of service is probably not for you. Daly said that if his company grows to more than 10 users, he'll probably establish his own infrastructure with an Exchange server.

If you're looking for an email archiving system that's easy to use, and that will give you peace of mind in your SMB environment, a cloud email archiving service may be a good option. But you have to do your homework and ask the right questions to ensure your data is secure, and that you can use the system without a major training initiative. The costs can be expensive compared to simple online storage, but knowing your data is safe and that you didn't have to buy a single piece of hardware could be worth it.

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