Contrary to what you might think, cloud email providers do not provide email archiving or backup in their default configurations. Different email providers don’t even always agree on what to call these features, so to start any discussion about email archiving and backup, we first have to state clearly what we’re talking about.
Email Archiving is a lump sum archive of all email that goes around, in, or out of your organization. Archiving systems are meant to be used by your IT Administrator and are not end user friendly. User mailbox folders, contacts, and calendars are not part of an Archive.
Mailbox Backup looks at individual mailboxes, grabs snapshots of the emails, folders, contacts, and calendars, and makes it available to end users directly for review and restoration.
It may be possible to get both from one product. Many Mailbox Backup products do both Archiving and Mailbox Backup, but not all Archiving products offer Mailbox Backup capabilities.
Do I need Archiving or Backup or both?
If your business falls under any kind of regulatory scrutiny which requires you maintain copies of email communications for X period of time, then you need an email archiving tool in order to meet those compliance requirements. If you are required to place “legal holds” on certain communications, or your business model requires retaining communication for long periods of time, an email archiving product is the right tool to accomplish these goals.
If the structure of your email data is important to you, and if you want the peace of mind knowing that a deleted message can always be recovered and restored, then you need an email backup solution. If losing your historic calendar events or contact records would be catastrophic for you, then you need an email backup solution. If you want to be able to keep those emails from 2009-2012 that you really swear will be useful to you some day, but you don’t want them syncing and clogging your devices, then an email backup solution is probably the right tool for you (or maybe the O365 In-Place Archive feature, discussed later).
How do we get this implemented?
Email Archiving is sometimes an add-on you can get through your hosting provider. Google Workspace (aka GSuite) has “Google Vault” which you may already be paying for, or may push you into a new tier of licensing if you want to use it. If you get your Microsoft email through a reseller (like Intermedia), that reseller may offer Archiving add-ons for under $5 p/user p/month. That said, there are reasons to consider having your Archiving and Backup separated from your live mail provider (e.g. in case you want to change providers down the road).
Email Backup products are almost never included as part of your email hosting provider, and would be implemented as part of a 3rd party tool. The good news is that there are options which do both Archiving AND backup, and they can even be mixed/matched together in most circumstances to provide redundancies or various feature sets.
Not Email Archiving:
Microsoft has an M365 feature attached to certain levels of licenses called the “Microsoft In-Place Archive” or otherwise referred to as “Microsoft Online Archive.” This is a feature with useful applications, but is NOT email archiving in the sense described above. A Microsoft In-Place Archive is a way of splitting storage on a large email box in O365 in order to prevent undue amounts of syncing to your devices, which results in poor user experience.
Google Vault almost meets our definition of an Email Archiving product, but Google Vault will delete data from the Vault/Archive when user accounts are deleted from your organization, thus not leaving you with a complete archive.
Cloud or On-Prem?
If you want an on-prem email archiving and backup solution, Second Son has a product we’ve implemented successfully in a number of client environments. Our recommended on-prem solution offers the security of knowing you’re in control of your own data and not beholden to a 3rd party cloud provider. Hosting providers sometimes go out of business or get acquired and change their offerings and prices drastically. On-prem Archiving and Mailbox Backup also provides a great end-user experience for reviewing and restoring backed up email.
The tradeoff is an On-Prem email archiving server can be quite costly. The hardware to run it needs to be beefy, designed to their specification, and managed for years, at a cost. That said, cloud hosted archiving offerings often charge very high fees for ingesting existing data. In other words, they’ll turn on Archiving today for a set price, but if you want to ingest emails from your old server it could cost you quite a bit more.
Email archiving is a service which automatically captures every email that is sent or received for your organization and stores it in a manner which allows administrators and privileged users to search through the entire library for the company. In an archiving system, end users cannot bypass this process to prevent the archiving of a given message and cannot delete messages from the archive once they’ve been captured. Data retention (whether you want to hold onto your email messages for an unlimited period of time or purge them after X number of years) is configured and managed by administrators.
Email backup captures the state of your mailboxes in your organization, which for almost all products includes backing up the folder structure of the mailboxes. Modern email backup systems typically have an end user facing portal which allows employees to review or restore deleted messages on their own, without the need of engaging IT Support. Most modern email backup systems will also backup individual user Contacts and Calendar events and sometimes even more (like Microsoft Teams or Google Chat messages).