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The majority of small business owners don't think about e-mail archiving, and if they do, it's mainly seen as a big business issue. Large corporations have the burden of retaining the e-mail of thousands of employees for posterity – or at least as long as the law requires it of them.
Yet such requirements apply to small businesses, too. There are thousands of small companies in the financial sector, for example, that are affected by regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC and National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). Like their larger cousins, they have the burden of keeping a copy of every single e-mail transmission for a period of many years.
But a study conducted by the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, found that 36 percent of small- and mid-sized securities firms (broker-dealers) were not archiving their e-mail. Further, 20 percent didn’t realize they were obligated to do so. The adoption rates outside of the financial sector are far lower.
“There isn’t a huge uptake of e-mail archiving adoption in the small business space, although there are a growing number of providers that offer both appliance-based and hosted solutions that appeal to small businesses,” says Mike Osterman, an analyst with Osterman Research Inc.
What is E-mail Archiving?
It is essentially a systematic approach to saving and protecting the data contained in messages relayed via e-mail. The whole point is that individual messages can be accessed quickly whenever they are needed.
Take this scenario: someone sues a small business for some alleged grievance. As many small businesses have discovered to their sorrow, court cases can be generated by disgruntled customers, former employees, rivals and even the big fish that want to stamp out the little guys all together.
“Very small businesses should consider e-mail archiving due to the potential for legal exposure,” says John Webster, principal IT advisor at analyst firm Illuminata Inc. “I just sold my position in my small business, and my attorney hasn’t heard from me since then. Before that, I was on the phone with him at least once a month. We live in very litigious times.”
If a suit happens, lawyers will demand the retrieval of all sorts of information, right down to all e-mail by or about a specific client, all e-mail during a particular time period, etc. Using backup to find one or several e-mail, however, can be a nightmare. What tape is it on, where is the tape, and is the required message actually on that tape or did the backup fail that day?
To sort out such messes, companies hire outside forensics firms to extract what the legal eagles have cast their beady eyes upon. According to Osterman, it can cost as much as $3,500 per backup tape when using an outside forensics firm to extract data.
“It’s a mistake to think that a backup provides protection for legal discovery, etc.,” says Osterman. “Any organization, even a small one that must rely on backup tapes to satisfy a legal discovery order is in for a shock.”
But regulatory compliance or legal attacks aren’t the only reasons small businesses may need or want to deploy e-mail archiving. Take storage management, for instance. While many small businesses can get by without a SAN, if they have any kind of server on the premises to handle e-mail, they better offload and archive the messages or the server performance will suffer, they'll run out of disk space and backup times will lengthen considerably.
Knowledge management/data mining can sometimes be a driver, too – in the case where the company can extract valuable data from its message store. That’s a lot faster if it’s in an archive than in an e-mail program or on backup tapes.
In addition, archiving systems is a great way to give remote employees secure access to their e-mail data via a Web interface. And then there is disaster recovery – an archiving appliance can be placed in a remote location to provide a real-time, replicated message store.
”An archiving system is a far more useful tool than backup and can be procured at relatively low cost,” says Osterman. “An e-mail archiving system provides a number of diverse functions that can benefit just about everyone in a small business — they’re not just about archiving e-mail data for legal discovery or regulatory compliance.”
What’s Out There?
There is a wealth of e-mail archiving tools tailored to small businesses. They generally contain indexing and search capabilities, access logs to provide an audit trail, and sometimes information-lifecycle management tools to determine which messages need to be archived, which ones can be deleted and also when they can be deleted.
Let’s take a look at some of the candidates:
Osterman cites ArcMail’s Defender as one of several archiving appliance vendors that offer solutions of up to about 7TB that are designed to provide low-cost, easy to deploy, easy to manage archiving solutions in a small business environment. Defender is an appliance provided by ArcMail Technology of Shreveport, LA, that captures a copy of all inbound and outbound e-mail. Defender Express is a smaller version for very small businesses that has three flavors: 175GB, 400GB, and 650GB. Pricing starts at around $3000.
Norada Corp. of Canada offers the Norada Archive Service as part of its Solve 360 Hosted Web Office that is expressly designed for the needs of small business. Customers typically range between two and 20 employees. They don’t need to do anything other than sign up for the service to begin archiving. All you need is a Web browser, with no additional software or hardware required.
The service captures a copy of all e-mail transmissions within an organization. You can easily view, forward or restore archived messages as needed. On a regular, scheduled basis (frequency determined by the customer's needs) the un-editable archive is moved to CD/DVD media specifically developed for archiving applications and provided to customer. Pricing of the service works out at about $70 per month with additional fees based on the number of peopleand amount of storage consumed.
“Norada's Archive Service is a simple, inexpensive and reliable way to alleviate concerns posed by NASD & SEC policies, Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, legal discovery and other regulations,” says Norada’s commercial alliances director George Curnew. “Although today the concern is predominantly within public, financial, health, accounting and legal service companies, every small business should be prepared for future policy enforcement, and audit/litigation readiness.”
Broadcasters Bulletin, a small London-based media firm specializing in British radio, currently has about 10 active accounts with Norada. “We chose to archive our e-mail as part of our overall approach to data backup,” says Daniel Sands, a manager at Broadcasters Bulletin. “As we conduct more and more of our business electronically, e-mail archiving provides the paper trail that we would previously have kept by more traditional means.”
LiveOffice provides Advisor Mail Lite for primarily financial services firms with 15 or fewer employees (it also has version for larger organizations). This hosted service is tailored to the world of SEC, financial audits and regulatory compliance, and it even has a hedge-fund specific version. The company has over 600 accounts and says it is used by more than half of the nation’s broker/dealers.
According to Amy Dugdale, a spokesperson for LiveOffice, 15 seats typically costs around $200 per month, which includes unlimited storage. They charge a one-time setup fee that is based on the company’s configuration. LiveOffice is compatible with all major in-house mail servers so customers can continue to use their in-house server or they can opt to have LiveOffice actually host their e-mail.
“Some small businesses are just looking for the basics – a simple way to archive and retrieve messages,” says Dugdale.“ As a result of this growing demand, we are developing a basic archiving and retrieval solution that will be available shortly for just $2/seat/month.”
Other e-mail archiving players include the following companies:
MessageOne Inc. sells the EMS E-mail Archive as an outsourced approach to archiving. It has a partnership with Iron Mountain Inc. of Boston, one of the largest offsite backup tape specialists in the world.
Global Relay Communications Inc. has Message Archiver, another hosted service.
MessageSolution Inc. has released an express version of its Enterprise E-mail Archiving product that is compatible with all major e-mail servers and operating systems. The perpetual licensing fee is $11.95 per e-mail box up to 100 people. Prices come down after 100 seats.
Intradyn Inc.'s ComplianceVault appliance can store e-mail, instant messages and digital faxes. Pricing starts at around $8,000.
Fortiva Inc. provides Fortiva Archive as part of an overall e-mail management suite.. Company spokesperson Sarah Grant says the product is only suitable for companies using Microsoft Exchange with over 100 users.
Hosted or Not?
There are two main models for e-mail archiving, then – buy an appliance that captures e-mail onsite, or use a hosted service that is accessible via browser. The former is best for companies that have no trouble running one or more servers in-house and have someone who can take care of the relatively simple installation and maintenance of such a box.
Hosted, though, is perhaps a better choice for people who prefer to have nothing further to do with IT – just hand the problem off to someone else. “The best approach is purchase e-mail archiving as a service,” says Sands. “Administering e-mail and archiving in house is an unnecessary distraction from our core business.”
One final alternative exists, however. Waterford Technologiessells MailMeter Archive. Unlike the others, this is software that is installed on an existing mail server. That avoids the necessity of adding yet another box, along with the attendant demands for power, cooling and maintenance.
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.