Many companies archive email today, either because of regulatory requirements or because of management desires.
Archiving is not backup. A backup is a copy of data at a particular moment at time. Whoever maintains the email server you use almost certainly does backup, but they may or may not do archiving.
When done for regulatory compliance, archiving takes place prior to any other action. When an email message arrives on a server configured to archive incoming messages, the archive function is triggered right then, before the message is delivered to the mailbox of its recipient. There is no opportunity to delete the message to avoid archiving; the server will have made a copy before the recipient has any such opportunity.
The same is true if outgoing messages are archived. The email is intercepted and stored before being delivered.
The legal necessity of email archiving has expanded in recent years. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires public companies to keep email archives for seven years and specific industries (health care, financial investments) may have other requirements.
Even if a company has no legal need to archive, they may wish to monitor employee responses to customers for training or other reasons. For example, a company may use email archiving to be sure that their customers always do get a response to their email inquiries.
The image here shows the configuration of local archiving on a Kerio Connect Mailserver.
(Disclaimer: I sell and support this product)
Note that this server is configured to archive all messages. A company that had no regulatory need for this and that was only interested in analyzing communications between employees and customers or vendors might not archive internal messages.
If you look carefully, you'll also note that the archives are stored locally. That may not be acceptable for regulatory purposes. I am not a lawyer and I would not presume to give any advice about this, but if I were investigating a business that archived in this way, I'd wonder what would prevent them from going to the archive and modifying or removing messages?
Third party archival
Aside from the possibility of modification, a local archive like this is just storage of files. There is nothing in the Kerio product that provides for indexing or searching of those archived files. If you needed to prove the response or even the existence of a specific email conversation, you'd be on your own.
Third party archival can handle either situation. If your concern is merely ease of access and indexing, you can run a local archiving server like MailArchiva (available as both an open source and a commercial product). There are many similar products available; I liked that a free open source version was available with MailArchiva.
Off site services are also available. Google for "off-site email archiving" to find those.
Features you will want to look for in either case include:
Ease of use
Web based access is useful, but you don't want to be hampered by a poorly designed interface. Be sure that access to the archive is easy and intuitive.
Legal issues may require you to store emails for a specific number of years, but you may want to store them longer for your own research.
Messages that contain attachments may have been sent to multiple recipients. Storing one attachment and modifying those messages to point to it saves server storage.
Security and Role based administration
You may need to assign different levels of access to different people. Role based administration gives you that control. You may want extra security as access by unauthorized persons may be extremely undesirable.
The configuration of the Kerio server above is not granular - all messages are archived. Archiving rules let the archiver make further tests of the email before archiving.
You may need to search inside attachments or use logical operators to define the emails you wish to examine.
You may wish to see reports of email usage by employees, groups or even customers.
You'd definitely want to log access and any modification or removal.
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© 2012-02-17 Anthony Lawrence