What Is Email Archiving? How It Works, Types of Archiving & Best Practices for Compliance

  • Email Archiving
  • What Is Email Archiving? How It Works, Types of Archiving & Best Practices for Compliance

    Did you know that over 333 billion emails are sent and received worldwide every day? By 2025, that number is expected to climb to over 376 billion. Business emails account for a substantial portion of that number — emails that may include customer information, process documentation, transaction details, reports and analysis, important attachments and much more.

    Given the vast wealth of information business emails contain, it’s imperative that an organization be able to store them safely for extended periods of time and surface this information at a moment’s notice. That’s where email archiving comes into play.

    What Is Email Archiving?

    Email archiving refers to the process by which an organization stores business emails within a secure, centralized repository known (perhaps unsurprisingly) as an email archiver or email archiving platform. Email archiving belongs to the larger family of electronic communications archiving — that is, the long-term storage of any information communicated through digital channels, including text/SMS messages, social media posts and direct messages, instant messages and live chats, videos, voicemails and more.

    Most email archivers use the same basic approach, automatically capturing and making a copy of all incoming and outgoing messages. The archiver then indexes and saves those copies to a secure data store, where they are preserved in their original format. Email archiving should not be confused with email journaling. Although both make a copy of the original message, email archiving moves that copy to a secure location, while email journaling keeps that copy on the same email server.

    Email archiving boasts a wide variety of benefits — some of which we’ll cover in this article — and is essential to knowledge management, business continuity, disaster recovery, compliance initiatives and eDiscovery.

    Why Is Email Archiving Important?

    From regulatory compliance to managing server capacity, there are several reasons why companies and other organizations should keep thorough records of their email communications. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ones we mentioned previously, as well as a few others:

    • Business continuity — Email archiving can help with general record keeping and restoring business operations to normal after a security incident, ensuring that companies won’t miss a beat in the event that something goes wrong.
    • eDiscovery — Should a company be involved in a lawsuit, audit or other investigation, it may be required to produce relevant electronic communications (including emails) as evidence. Failure or the inability to comply with these types of requests — known as electronic discovery, or eDiscovery — comes with hefty fines, penalties and sanctions.
    • Knowledge management — Frequently, a company’s email communications include information that’s relevant to how the business operates. When shared with the rest of the organization, this knowledge can help teams improve processes, achieve goals and complete other objectives. Email archiving makes this information more readily available to the appropriate departments.
    • Regulatory compliance — While all businesses are required to follow strict, federal email retention laws, depending on the industry a company operates in, there may be additional requirements. Intradyn’s email archiving solution helps organizations comply with these requirements by offering safe, secure and easily searchable storage.
    • Server capacity — By establishing email archiving rules, companies can more easily manage their servers’ storage capacity and ensure that they have enough bandwidth to keep inboxes and processes running smoothly.

    How Does Email Archiving Work?

    Put simply, email archiving is the practice of moving a copy of all incoming and outgoing messages off of email servers and into a separate storage location, or archive. This archive acts as a holding pen for sensitive communications that don’t need to be accessed currently but may become relevant in the future.

    Depending on the email archiving solution you choose, you can set up custom rules that will automatically archive the emails that meet your chosen parameters. This makes it easy to ensure that your organization remains compliant with all industry retention requirements and able to comply with any eDiscovery requests that arise.

    Email Archiving vs. Email Backup

    Email journaling isn’t the only process people mistake for email archiving — there’s also a common misconception that email archiving and email backup are one and the same. Although the two are closely related, there are some key distinctions.

    A backup is a snapshot of everything in your email database at a given point in time, designed to help organizations restore email data to its previously saved state in the event of an incident. Only one snapshot can exist at any given point in time, so any time a new backup is created, the previous version is discarded and replaced. This means if an email is accidentally deleted or corrupted and a new backup is made before it can be recovered, those emails will be lost forever. Email backups also typically require substantial storage capacity.

    By comparison, an email archive stores all email communications in perpetuity. New emails and attachments can be added to the archive without affecting previously stored information, making it ideal for long-term data retention. In fact, archived emails cannot be edited once archived and can only be deleted by authorized users who have the necessary permissions. Unlike an email backup, users can easily search through email archives to find the exact information they need.

    On-Premise vs. Cloud-Based Email Archiving

    Organizations interested in utilizing an email archiver have the option to use either an on-premises or cloud-based solution. Both options automatically capture and index incoming and outgoing emails, but an on-premises email archiving solution stores data in-house, on a physical or virtual server, whereas a cloud-based email archiving solution stores data in a secure cloud environment.

    Both options come with clear benefits and drawbacks. Larger organizations that have the IT infrastructure to support the storage requirements of an on-premises archiver — and the IT staff to manage and maintain it — may appreciate the peace of mind that comes with keeping all company data entirely in-house. With that said, cloud-based solutions are highly scalable, which means that larger organizations with substantial storage requirements can also benefit from the flexibility they offer.

    Conversely, smaller organizations with limited IT resources may prefer a cloud-based email archiver because it requires less effort to set up and manage — or, if their storage requirements are fairly minimal, they may prefer the one-time capital expense of purchasing an on-premises solution.

    For more details on the differences between on-premises and cloud-based email archivers, please refer to the chart below:

     On-premises Email Archiving Cloud-based Email Archiving
    Deployed on in-house physical servers Deployed in the cloud
    Limited amount of storage; need to purchase additional physical storage once you’ve reached capacity Unlimited storage; can easily scale storage space up or down as needed
     One-time capital expense (unless you require additional storage space) Pay-as-you-go operating expense
    Requires hands-on management from in-house IT team “Set it and forget it” solution, typically managed and maintained by third-party providers with their own IT teams
     Can set custom access controls  Can set custom access controls

    End User Archiving

    When it comes to archiving emails, there are two different retention systems that can help individuals and organizations keep the records they need: Archiving systems geared toward end users and other, more fully featured email archiving solutions. While essentially serving the same purpose, these two systems aren’t created equal.

    End user archiving is what you’ll find included in popular email services such as Outlook and Gmail, and serves the basic purpose of providing easy-to-use message storage for individual end users. In contrast, email archiving services, which are intended for use by IT departments at companies and other organizations, offer a robust set of features — such as legal and eDiscovery tools, detailed search functions, the ability to scale as needed, and much more — in addition to retention capabilities.

    Email Archiving in Outlook & Gmail

    While a dedicated email archiving solution offers a more robust selection of features and capabilities, many popular email providers — such as Outlook and Gmail — come with their own archiving functions that may be sufficient for some businesses.

    Here’s how you can archive emails and access them later using each of these platforms.

    Email Archiving With Gmail

    1. Open your Gmail inbox
    2. Choose the email (or emails) you wish to archive by clicking the selection box in the left-hand column
    3. Click on the “Archive” icon (the one that looks like an open box with a downward-pointing arrow on the front) that appears to the right of the email line
    4. The email will then be removed from your inbox and appear in the “All Mail” folder

    If you’re on a mobile device, swipe left on the email you want to archive and select “Archive” from the options that appear.

    Accessing Archived Emails in Gmail

    1. From your inbox, expand the left-hand menu (found underneath the “Compose” button) by clicking “More”
    2. Click on “All Mail”
    3. All archived emails and non-deleted emails can be found here

    For mobile users, the “All Mail” folder can be found under “Mailboxes.”

    Email Archiving With Outlook

    1. Open your inbox
    2. Choose the email you want to archive
    3. Click on the “Archive” button located in the top menu bar
    4. The email will move from your inbox and into the “Archive” folder

    Accessing Archived Emails in Outlook

    1. Open the “Archive” folder in the left-hand menu
    2. Find the emails you’re looking for by scrolling or using the search button

    How Email Archiving Supports Compliance Initiatives

    Many organizations across all industries are subject to regulations and legislation with specific data security and retention requirements, including:

    • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which explicitly states that the personal data of citizens of the European Union and the greater European Economic Area must be “kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which the personal data are processed.” GDPR also requires organizations to implement strong security policies and procedures to prevent stored data or communications containing personal data from falling into the wrong hands.

    So, what do any of these have to do with email archiving? As noted, email archivers are designed for the explicit purpose of storing email communications for extended periods of time, enabling organizations to meet various data retention requirements and comply with key regulations. Certain email archiving solutions enable you to define custom data retention policies for different file types (and even individual files) to make compliance even easier.

    Most email archiving solutions also utilize advanced security features, such as document redaction, end-to-end encryption, two-factor or multi-factor authentication, custom user permissions and more, to help organizations meet various regulatory and legislative data security requirements.

    See Our Comprehensive List of Email Retention Laws >>

    How Email Archiving Supports eDiscovery

    For any organization that finds itself preparing for pending litigation, an efficient eDiscovery process — that is, the process by which electronically stored information is located, procured, reviewed and exchanged — is an absolute must.

    An email archiving solution can help organizations respond to incoming eDiscovery requests in a quick fashion because it stores all emails in their original format within a secure, centralized repository and makes those indexes easily searchable using advanced search functionality. Need to implement a legal hold on a specific email or set of emails? No worries — the right email archiver can help you preserve evidence by using its tagging functionality.

    How Email Archiving Supports Disaster Recovery

    Unexpected systems failures, power outages, human error, data breaches and more — organizations face a wide variety of risks that pose a direct threat to business continuity. In situations such as these, it’s essential to have a disaster recovery plan in place to restore data and resume normal business operations as quickly as possible, and an email archiver is integral to that.

    By storing all electronic communication records in a single, secure and often offsite location, organizations can reduce their risk of losing access to important email data, even if their primary systems are compromised. Some email archivers also use warm standby — a redundancy method that mirrors data from primary servers to secondary servers at regular intervals — to support systems availability, even in the event of a disaster.

    Finally, email archiving solutions are usually accessible from any device, meaning if a user’s work computer were temporarily out of service, they could still access information from their laptop or personal device. Without having to worry about data loss or service interruptions, organizations can ensure business continuity while bringing systems back online.

    Email Archiving Best Practices

    For any organization new to the world of email archiving, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure your success:

    • Invest in a solution with sufficient storage volume to meet your organization’s archiving needs — or, more ideally, a solution capable of growing with your organization over time.
    • Make sure you have a complete understanding of federal laws and agency regulations before selecting an email archiver to ensure that your solution of choice meets compliance requirements.
    • Always consult your legal team before defining custom retention policies to ensure that everything is above board. You might also consider securing input from key stakeholders across your organization — including finance, HR, marketing, sales, engineering and production — so that all your bases are completely covered.
    • Simplify compliance by setting a “high-water-mark” retention period. For example, if you were subject to two separate regulations, one of which required a two-year retention period and the other a five-year retention period, it would be best practice to set a five-year retention period across all email data.
    • Make your email retention policies and schedules as straightforward as possible. The more accessible your policies and schedules, the more likely your employees are to adhere to them, and the more likely your organization will remain compliant with applicable regulations.
    • Review your email retention policies and schedules on an annual basis to ensure that they are still up-to-date and relevant. If you do make any changes, be sure to communicate those changes to your employees.
    • Enhance productivity by using automation to your advantage. Email archiving solutions not only automatically capture and index emails — you can also configure your organization’s email archiver to automate the legal hold process and automatically erase data once it’s exceeded its retention period.
    • Avoid archiving emails as PST files and backing them up onto a hard drive, as PST files are not tamper-proof, are prone to corruption, are device-specific and can be used to circumvent retention policies.
    • Don’t stop at email — investing in an all-in-one archiving platform enables you to archive other electronic communications, such as text messages and social media comments, using the same solution.
    • Consider any challenges your organization faces or requirements you are subject to carefully before deciding on an archiving solution.

    For more information about any of these email archiving best practices, we encourage you to read our blog post on the subject.

    Choosing the Right Email Archiving Solution

    The email archiving solution your company needs will depend on several factors, such as regulatory compliance and record keeping requirements. For an archiving solution that meets these needs, and comes with a team of archiving industry experts with a proven track record of continuous evolution and industry innovation, look no further than Intradyn.

    With Intradyn, you can trust that even your most sensitive data is in good hands. Check out our free on-demand demo, or contact us today for more information.

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    Azam is the president, chief technology officer and co-founder of Intradyn. He oversees global sales and marketing, new business development and is responsible for leading all aspects of the company’s product vision and technology department.

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