Dashing barriers to email archiving with Exchange 2010

Retention Policy Tag types available in Exchange Server 2010.

Retention Policy Tag types available in Exchange Server 2010.

With email playing a critical role in every business’s operations, protecting it has become more important than ever. One way to do that is by archiving it. Unfortunately, some organizations may find the task daunting.

Why? Messages may be stored all over the place–in .PST files, on SharePoint sites, on backup tapes, with third-party providers and in employees’ personal email accounts.

“With the potential of up to 90 percent of your e-mail residing outside of your Exchange Server, it can be daunting to enforce data retention policies or locate relevant communications when compliance matters arise,” Microsoft observed in a White Paper titled “Addressing E-mail Archiving and Discovery with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010.”

Another barrier to email archiving can be worker resistance. Some archiving solutions require both desktop and IT folks to change the ways they do things. Users may need to leave the comfort of their email applications to interact with archived messages. They may also need to learn new clients or applications to work in the new environment. Those things can discourage employee buy-in to the new system.

Not only can those accommodations to change disrupt established workflows of desktop workers, but it can affect an organization’s productivity. For instance, an archival system that doesn’t integrate seamlessly with an existing email setup can disable features in that existing system designed to increase productivity. For example, if the archives were set up outside Exchange, workers might lose the benefits of tools like Conversation View and the “anywhere access” capability of Microsoft’s Outlook Web App.

Similar challenges can confront an IT department. They may have to maintain new add-ons to email and Web apps to adjust to the archive scheme. What’s more, archiving could create a whole new infrastructure that must be made reliable and accessible to users. In addition, search methods that work with an existing system may not work with the new archival system. That can create quite a can of worms when compliance officers, legal departments and human resource people are breathing down an administrator’s neck for data to meet legal or regulatory demands.

Cost can also be a barrier to archiving. If you have to create a parallel infrastructure to integrate an archiving solution into your system, that’s an added cost to your organization. On top of that, you’ll probably need additional training, and you can expect help desk volumes to rise as your workers acclimate themselves to the new way of doing business. Added costs are met with resistance even in the best of times, but that’s even more so now when every business is trying to make IT into a competitive asset by driving down the cost and overhead of infrastructure investments.

With that in mind, Microsoft has added some new features to Exchange Server 2010 that make creating an archival system less burdensome. One of those features is the Personal Archive.

What’s often done by users to preserve their email overflows is create additional .PST files. Those files are stored locally, which makes them difficult to manage. Personal Archive creates a secondary Exchange mailbox linked to each users main mailbox. Email overflows can then be shipped to the Personal Archive box where they can be better managed by a system’s administrators.

A nice feature of Personal Archive is that it doesn’t impose any additional burdens on users. It looks like an ordinary folder in Outlook or Outlook Web App and users can interact with it just as they do with their other folders.

The same is true for your IT crew. Tools they use to manage Exchange–such as Exchange Management Console and PowerShell–can be used with Personal Archive.

Exchange 2010 has also improved how it manages message retention. Policies can easily be implemented that automate deletion and archiving of email.

In addition, Retention Policy Tags can be attached to default folders–all inbox folders, for example, or Sent items–so as messages meet the retention action in a tag, they’re automatically performed. What’s more, users can assign personal retention tags to individual messages, conversations, or custom folders. To make things easier on users, retention policy details are displayed in a message’s preview pane to make it easy for users to keep tabs on what’s in store for a message.

Electronic Discovery is also facilitated in Exchange 2010 with a Legal Hold feature. If a user is placed on legal hold, any edits or deletions he or she makes to emails in his or her primary or Personal Archive account are preserved and stored in a separate recoverable items store that’s inaccessible to the user.

Another addition to Exchange’s e-discovery arsenal is a new multi-mailbox search. What makes this feature nice for IT folks is that they can delegate it to people like compliance officers or corporate legal staff without having to give the searchers full administrative privileges to their networks.

While Microsoft would never sell itself on the archiving capabilities it has packed into Exchange, it appears to recognize that not all good ideas originate in Redmond. It’s also built into Exchange 2010 ways for other software makers to add the software’s archiving, retention and discovery capabilities.

“There are likely many reasons your organization is seeking new and better ways to preserve and discover the critical business communications conducted over e-mail,” Microsoft noted in its White Paper. “Whether your motivation is to lower your storage costs, address regulatory compliance, or meet time tables for legal discovery orders, the integrated e-mail archiving, retention, and discovery features offered in Exchange 2010 can help your organization.”

Written by John P Mello Jr

John Mello is a freelance writer who has written about business and technical subjects for more than 25 years. He is frequent contributor to the ECT News Network and his work has appeared in a number of periodicals, including Byte magazine, PC World, Computerworld, CIO magazine and the Boston Globe

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