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E-mail archiving service offers 'limited liability'

Amerivault and Connected have launched an outsourced e-mail archiving service, but analysts warn to read the small print to avoid finder-pointing.

In an indication that more users are outsourcing e-mails, online backup and recovery provider Amerivault Corp. and e-mail archiving specialist Connected Corp. announced this week an outsourced e-mail archiving service to help users prepare for compliance regulations.

The new service, called Amerivault E-mail Archiving Service, combines Waltham, Mass.-based Amerivault's backup and recovery infrastructure with Framingham, Mass.-based Connected's ArchiveStore/EM e-mail archiving tool to manage a company's e-mails off site. Likely candidates for the service are small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) because, as Connected's COO John Clancy put it: "They can't afford not to outsource anymore."

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The partnership, which will expand customer bases for both companies, also speaks to the complexity and fear surrounding the archival of e-mails for compliance. "We have 500 customers, and a lot of them have been saying to us, 'you provide this great backup infrastructure, but please help us fix our e-mail,' " said Bud Stoddard, president and CEO of Amerivault.

Who's liable when the courts come knocking?

Yet once a company's e-mails are archived with an outsourcer, who's liable for what when the regulators come knocking? Not the outsourcers -- and it's written in the contract.

Most software license agreements contain limitation liability language that keeps service providers out of the courtroom. "As a rule, the service providers assume no liability," said Jack Scott, analyst with The Evaluator Group. "No court I know of would allow the first party to off-load liability to their subcontractor."

"We won't be sitting side by side with a customer in court," said Amerivault's Stoddard. "But as an outsourcer, we'll limit their liability." Mike Casey, analyst with Contoural Inc., said that in some cases, outsourcing is a way to stay out of trouble in the first place. "Hiring a trusted third party could lend credibility to a company should it have to produce records to the courts," he said.

Still, when three parties are forced to cooperate on a high-pressure endeavor, can the blame game be far behind? Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with The Taneja Group, warned users to check the fine print on who takes ultimate responsibility for compliance of the data that's being stored. "When more than one player is involved, there's the potential for finger pointing," he said.

But for companies that don't have the resources internally, outsourcing might be their only option. For those that are paying large IT departments, Taneja argued that it's probably better in the long run to keep it in-house. Connected's Clancy agreed with that notion. "Since larger companies are highly regulated, they're not likely to outsource," he said.

Is e-mail too specialized for outsourcing?

Doug Chandler, analyst with International Data Corp. downplays the popularity of e-mail archiving, noting that the outsourcing model for e-mail hasn't taken off yet, perhaps because it might be too specialized. "Each company has a custom situation regarding what they need to save and for how long, which may make it prohibitive for the outsourcing model … maybe if e-mail becomes standardized, it might pick up," he said.

In addition to Amerivault and Connected, Iron Mountain Inc., KVS Inc., Navisite Inc., and Zantaz Inc. offer similar outsourcing services for e-mail archiving. It's worth noting that Zantaz acquired Educom TS, a Canadian-based e-mail archiving software company, earlier this year to sell archiving software to companies that want to keep the function in-house.

The AmeriVault Email Archiving Service is expected to be available within the next 30 days and will be priced based on storage volume. The estimated range is $25 to $30/GB.

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