What Is Email Archiving? [+ Best Practices]

  • Email Archiving
  • What Is Email Archiving? [+ Best Practices]

    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.

    Email Archiving vs. Email Backup

    Email journaling isn’t the only process people mistake email archiving for — there’s also a common misconception that email archiving and email backup are one in 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-premise or cloud-based solution. Both options automatically capture and index incoming and outgoing emails, but an on-premise 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-premise 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-premise solution.

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

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

    How Email Archiving Supports Compliance Initiatives

    Many organizations across all industries are subject to regulations and legislation with specific data security and retention requirements. Regulations and legislation such as:

    • The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule, which requires healthcare organizations to store all documents pertaining to HIPAA policies and procedures — including email messages — for a period of no less than six years. Under HIPAA, healthcare organizations are also required to use enhanced data security measures, such as encryption, to secure patients’ Protected Health Information.
    • The Gramm-Leach Bliley Act (GLBA), which requires financial institutions under the Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction to implement safeguards to keep customer information secure.
    • 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.
    • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which requires academic institutions and agencies in the United States to retain educational data — that is, any records directly related to a student — for extended periods of time and to make that data available to parents and legal guardians upon request.
    • The Financial Institution Regulatory Authority (FINRA) SEC Rule 17a-4, which requires broker-dealers in the financial services industry to retain and index electronic correspondences, including email, with immediate accessibility for a period of two years and with non-immediate accessibility for at least six years.

    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 electronic discovery (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 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 which 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 simple and 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 just 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 which email archiving solution to invest your hard-earned money into.

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

    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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