Managing risk when switching email archive providers

Danny Bradbury

Switching your email archiving and security service from one cloud provider to another can be a daunting prospect, but sometimes it’s necessary. Email is an important business asset with many security and productivity implications, so risk management is a key part of this process. Avoiding service disruption is as important as avoiding data loss or compromise.

If you’re making the switch, you can reduce the project risk by working with a service provider that can understand the issues involved and handle a lot of the gruntwork. They have already made all the mistakes that you won’t have anticipated.

To make the process as smooth as possible, here are some questions to ask them before you start – and some to consider yourself:

How will I prove integrity after data migration?

movingdataThe larger your data archive, the more difficult you may find it to export without problems. Formatting errors and data corruption may creep in as you process data for export. A migration service should help you to conduct quality control on the data migration so that you know you’ve exported it all, without errors.

Message integrity is important in two ways:

1. User transparency
Users shouldn’t notice any difference when they need to access their archived email. Clicking on a mail shortcut shouldn’t throw up a file not found error. Images and attachments should be available as though they’d never been moved. Otherwise, productivity may suffer.

2. Chain of custody proof
Chain of custody is an important part of the archiving process. If and when you enter the email ediscovery phase in a legal case, the legal team must be able to technically prove that you were in control of email at all times, and recreate a paper trail showing how it was stored or transferred. Without it, your email evidence loses its legal utility.

To satisfy these requirements, your migration partner should be able to show an audit report from the migration, showing which mails have been migrated, and providing data such as source and destination IDs, message migration status, message subjects, and mapping information.

Have I properly prepared my data?

The more you archive email, the more cumbersome it becomes. In many cases, you may find that you’ve stored more data than you legally need to. Before you begin your migration journey, take stock. Cull those archived mails that are no longer required by legal, compliance or business policies. This will lighten your load.

How will data be moved?

disk-backupEven after the cull, that large email archive may be difficult to move, especially if your incumbent cloud service provider throttles your bandwidth. Think about how you and your migration partner will get data from one place to another. In some cases, it may be possible to export the emails to physical media. Using Write Once Read Many (WORM) drives or rewritable drives with checksums. They can solve painful bandwidth problems while helping to preserve the chain of custody during transfer, ensuring that the data hasn’t been tampered with in transit.

Security is also an important consideration when switching online mail archiving providers. Ideally, the exported data will be encrypted, whether it’s being sent online or via physical media. Use a robust encryption mechanism like AES-256, that is still considered strong, and hasn’t been deprecated.

What formatting problems will I find?

Different cloud-based providers may store their archived data in slightly different formats. Your migration tool or consulting firm will ideally have connectors for your source and destination cloud email archive service providers installed and ready to go, helping to minimize any problems down the road.

What will my post-migration mail flow look like?

Be careful about mail flow when you’re migrating your services. Are you using email security services from one provider and email archiving from another? How and where you source these services will affect the number of hops that emails will need to make, and could impact performance, while also making your partner infrastructure more complex. Consider migrating to an all-in-one solution that can handle email archive solutions and security together, to simplify matters.

Is there a back-out option?

Email security and archived data isn’t something that you want to mess with. When you’re switching to a new provider, don’t be caught short if things go wrong during the process, or if the service isn’t what you expected afterwards. Keeping a back-out option by archiving emails in two places for a set period will give you peace of mind. When you’re confident, you can discontinue the old service.

Asking these few simple questions can help to avert disaster. One of the first things a woodworker learns is the old adage: ‘measure twice, cut once’, and it applies just as much to a high-tech field like email archive migration. When it comes to this tricky task, mistakes cost a lot more to fix than to prevent in the first place.