Cloud Archiving 101: A Guide for IT Administrators

Danny Bradbury

As the basis for so much daily business communication, email is a mission-critical service for many business people. Businesses must steward it carefully, with a close eye on performance. In the fight for effective email management, there is one weapon that is frequently overlooked: archiving.

If you thought that instant messaging and social media were killing email, think again. According to market research company Radicati Group, the number of business email accounts is growing rapidly. In 2013 there were 929 million such accounts. This year, there will be 1.02bn – an increase of 10%. In 2017, that number will jump 11.4% to 1.14 billion.

Retaining this email is important to businesses, for several reasons. These include:

    • Legal obligations. Industry-specific regulations may require a company to preserve its communications. And should a lawsuit ever arise, it may be required to produce emails sent by employees.
    • Knowledge retention. Email is a repository of corporate knowledge. Employees’ expertise and experience is often preserved in these emails. If you as a company don’t retain that knowledge, it is lost forever.
    • Knowledge discovery. Adept managers may be able to mine metadata from emails to find out useful things about corporate workflows. This can produce actionable intelligence that can hone the efficiency of the business.
    • Avoiding user error. Even the most organized employees may accidentally delete things. Archiving and backup make it possible to reverse mistakes, potentially saving time and money.

Pre-empting performance issues

Storing all this information is far from easy. Older versions of Exchange have an inherent limit to the number of items that can be stored in a single folder, and when you exceed this limit, it can dramatically impede Outlook performance.

Even in more modern versions of Exchange, harbouring large mailboxes can affect the efficiency and performance of Outlook connections to the hosted message store. While mailbox quotas are theoretically unlimited in on-premise Exchange 2013, you’d be crazy to actually allow this.

Large or even unlimited mailbox sizes will eventually create problems for capacity planning and disk partition sizing, and those problems will result in service disruptions at inopportune moments.

Left unmanaged, mailbox bloat can create problems for companies, who will then contact administrators for answers. Helpdesk calls affect profitability, and the more that an administrator can do to avoid them, the more time they have to concentrate on other things. When it comes to performance issues, a kilobyte of prevention is worth a Gigabyte of cure.

The answer is in the cloud

Archiving Exchange mailboxes helps to prevent these performance issues, but this process still puts pressure on administrators, who must manage the storage infrastructure, archiving process, and backup of the archived data.

At the very least, this would require an additional investment in storage infrastructure. Even if you are relying on cheap SATA storage, you have to purchase those, along with redundant equipment, and provide rack space and power to manage them.

Third-party cloud-based archiving offloads what is a necessary but largely unprofitable activity for administrators, which can then rely on an expert organization to handle the whole process. It also provides a number of benefits for the administrator and companies alike.

Aside from increasing performance, one such benefit is automatic backup. Email archives are automatically duplicated in cloud environments, which can be useful for companies worried about resilience and availability.

Companies using cloud-based archiving can have enterprise-class services without any upfront capital investment. Given that archiving is unlikely to generate a significant portion of revenue, there is a particular need to keep costs low.

The bottom-line benefits

The economic benefits of archiving can be significant. Osterman Research takes a 500-seat organization responding to an e-discovery or regulatory audit request as an example. The research firm draws on real world examples when it assumes that the data is stored locally on 500 backup tapes, and that each tape takes 30 minutes to load into a recovery server and copy to a central repository. It allows 24 hours for dealing with corrupted PST files, and unreadable tapes, and 320 person-hours for legal staff to manually trawl the data.

That organization would spend 250 person-hours of IT staff time at a total cost of $10,538 to recover the data from the tapes, claim Osterman analysts. The legal staff would cost $64,000 (320 hours at $200 per hour), producing a total labor cost of $74,528 to process the information. With a directly accessible archived system, that figure halves at the very least, it suggests.

Actual figures may vary according to circumstance of course, but this shows how an effective email retention strategy – which administrators can provide with the help of a cloud-based service – can provide significant economic advantage for their companies. Managing archiving with a cloud partner can give companies peace of mind, allowing them to focus on innovation in other areas, such as application and service provisioning. It offloads a critical function, leaving them to concentrate on business critical tasks. And perhaps most importantly, it offers the chance to save a considerable amount of money. That’s a partnership worth building.