Email Archiving, Backup and Journaling: What is the Right Strategy to Secure Email Data?

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With every email exchange, more information is being added to the enterprise mail store.

The Radicati Group, an international technology market research firm, predicts that by 2019, business emails will account for 128.8 billion mails sent and received per day. Administrators of large and small organizations are often asked to dig up and restore email data as this information can be useful as a reference for business purposes or during possible future legal investigations. In many countries, retaining this information has become mandatory by law.

There are many unpredictable circumstances that can lead to losing important and crucial email data unless it is backed up efficiently.

Let’s take a look at some backup horror stories

Scenario A: You’re just back from vacation, refreshed and ready to get work…but a few hours later an unfortunate incidence leads to a small office fire…luckily it got put out by the office sprinklers. However in the process, your laptop is now wet and the data on it (including all downloaded mail) is now inaccessible…lost.

Scenario B: A deadly virus infects computer network and servers, corrupting the email back-up, throwing everyone out of gear and disrupting your work flow.

There are other reasons why mails are no longer in the user’s mailbox. Some of them are:

  • When a user accidentally deletes a mail
  • When a retention policy removes older data

Choosing the right email archiving strategy for email backup and restore can make an IT team more productive as well as help in increasing the general productivity of an organization by minimizing disruption.

With rapid adoption of digital mechanisms to drive business processes and resulting unexpected growth of data in organisations, makes it necessary to find an email backup solution to improve capacity, cost and efficiency.

We have summarized various approaches for secure storing up email data along with the best fits and drawbacks when restoring older or lost mail.

Mail Server Backup

Typically the system admins configure scheduled backup of the mail server setup including the mail storage. The data backup happens at a scheduled time (daily or weekly) and contains a snapshot of all the email data present on the server at that moment. Depending on the storage availability and email retention policies, an organization may maintain more than one backup.

Since the backup is taken incrementally, the data stored for the users includes the state of the user’s mailbox at the time of the backup.

Access to the email backup is provided only to the system administrators.

Best fit for:

  • Server backups are a must to get your business up and running if disaster strikes.

Drawbacks when restoring deleted mails:

  • Since mail server backups are scheduled at intervals, and not continuously, a backup will not contain copies of mails which were sent/ received and deleted between two backups.
  • Restoring email data from older backups is a cumbersome and lengthy process.

Endpoint Backup

An organization may deploy a central backup of all endpoint devices or ask the individual users to take back up of their individual computers. The email backup happens at a planned time and will contain a snapshot of the mails on the desktop at the time of the backup. Depending on the email retention policies and storage availability, single or multiple backups may be maintained.

The data backed up will contain the state of the user’s mailbox on the endpoint (such as a desktop) at the time of the backup. Organizations may choose to backup the endpoint data of only critical users.

Access to the backup can be retained with the administrators or given to end users, depending on the policies of the organizations.

Best fit for:

  • Endpoint backups are good to get your critical users up and running in case their endpoint devices fail or are lost.

Drawbacks when used to restore deleted mails:

  • Since mail server backups are taken at planned intervals, and not continuously, a backup will not include mails which were exchanged and which got deleted between two backups.
  • If the endpoints are not online, the data backups cannot be executed and may lead to data inconsistency.

Enterprise Email Archiving

Using the enterprise email archiving feature involves moving mails from the primary email folders such as an Inbox to a separate archive folder. Typically the archive folder is maintained on a cheaper mail storage which is separate from the primary mail storage. However, both are part of the mail server setup. The movement of mail from the primary email folders to the archive folder can be manual or automatic. One example of automatic mail movement would be to configure auto archiving of mail older than ‘n’ days.

Email archiving is not really a backup as it is an alternate location for the older or less important mail. Access to the mail backup or in this case, the archive folders is provided to the end users who can manipulate or delete mail from them, unless the account is under legal hold, in which case the contents of the archive folder cannot be manipulated.

Best fit for:

  • Archive folders are good solutions to save on cost of email storage solutions and improve server performance.

Drawbacks when used to restore deleted mails:

  • As mentioned, unless there is a legal hold on the mailbox, the archive folders cannot be considered as backup.

Email Journaling on a Secondary Storage

An email system administrator can configure the primary server to journal a copy of every incoming and outgoing mail of selected users to a secondary store. Email journaling saves a copy before it hits the user’s mailbox maintaining the integrity of the data. The secondary store can be a third party backup or archival solution.

Email journaling can be configured for selected or all users of a domain. All incoming and outgoing mails can be backed up. Journaling creates an additive backup where new data is collected without disturbing the data backed up earlier. Access to the backup depends on the capability of the email journaling service used to archive the data. Some solutions make the data available only to admins. Others provide a read-only access to the end users in addition to the admin access.

Best fit for:

  • Email archiving solutions which collect data using the journal feature are ideal for compliance requirements.
  • Since a copy of every mail is maintained at a separate location, the primary mail store can be configured to auto delete older mail, reducing the storage requirement on the primary server and improving its performance.
  • Since the data store is tamper proof, a solution which provides self service portals can be used by end users to restore lost mail or entire mail boxes.

Drawbacks when used to restore deleted mails:

  • Requests for restoring mail prior to starting the email journaling can be serviced only if the solution allows historical data upload.
  • Depending on the solution, restoring or retrieving entire folders may be difficult.

Conclusion: Of Email Archiving, Backup and Journaling, Which One Should Be Chosen?

Journaling email to a secondary email archiving solution, with affordable and durable data storage and a self service portal for end users seems like the best solution for backup and restoration of email data.

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