Tactical Advice

5 Practical E-Mail Archival Strategies

Follow these pointers for effective and organized e-mail archiving.
5 Practical E-Mail Archival Strategies

E-mail archiving not only enables regulatory compliance and e-discovery, but offers an effective means for stretching your budget while boosting productivity. E-mail has become a central tool for messaging and managing attachments. What follows are five steps IT staff can take to improve e-mail archiving to support both immediate and future needs.

1. Set Policies for Retention and Disposal.

If you haven't already done so, establish policies for how long e-mail messages with attachments will be retained in primary repositories and in archives. If your organization already has these policies in place, spend some time reviewing them to see if they're still applicable or how they might be refined. Also, establish when messages will be routinely removed and deleted. For example, you might decide that e-mail messages should remain in your primary repository (such as a PST or Exchange data store) for 30 days, then migrate to an archive repository for a set period.

Many industries have data retention cycles that span from three to seven years or longer. Common compliance regulations include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH), Gramm–Leach–Bliley (GLB) and Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX), among others. Meet with the person in your organization tasked with policy and regulatory compliance for further advice and buy-in.

2. Establish Filters and Rules.

Part of an effective e-mail archiving and compliance strategy involves upfront configuration of your filters and policy rules to detect and block incoming spam along with specific keyword items. These filters can also be used to trigger policies that take action based on the e-mail's content and subject, or specified senders and recipients.

For example, in Outlook, go to Tools and select Rules to implement specific policies and actions. These might include putting a hold on certain messages, deleting spam that bypasses filters or moving legitimate messages along to their intended destination. In addition to incoming message filtering, archiving and regulatory compliance may also require monitoring of outgoing messages. Filters and policies can also be applied on e-mail servers and on managed services such as Google's Postini.

3. Index and Organize Your Inbox.

Filters can help feed information about incoming and outgoing messages to populate an index or search repository. An e-mail system's basic search capabilities can be enhanced with plug-in or add-on tools to gather more in-depth information about message contents and context to support everyday search and e-discovery activities. For example, Xobni is an indexing tool that creates profiles of every e-mail contact, making it easier to filter, search and sort e-mail threads and contacts.  

4. Archive Messages Regularly.

If you haven't already done so, establish a separate archive folder on a shared storage system to which messages and attachments can automatically be sent. This folder should ideally be on a separate storage device such as a network-attached storage (NAS) shared folder. Once the archive folder is set up, enable automatic archiving and specify the archiving frequency to free up space. Weekly e-mail archiving is a reasonable frequency to start with.

5. Perform Routine Cleanup and Optimization.

Cleanup and optimization should be part of routine e-mail maintenance. First, empty deleted items and archive older items manually if you have not already set up automated policy rules. If using Outlook, select Options from the Tools menu, then select Other and from there you can enable automated archiving along with other cleanup items. E-mail archiving can be achieved using built-in tools, with archived items sent to different storage locations, including shared file folders for use online, offline or in the cloud.

For example, to manually optimize a PST file in Outlook, you must first empty deleted items and perform any remaining archiving; then go into Data File Management, select the PST item to optimize (for instance, Outlook.PST), click on Settings and then choose Compact. In a test, after removing a week's worth of deleted items and archiving where needed, we were able to reduce our sample Outlook PST file by more than half, going from 248 megabytes down to 109MB. Needless to say, the smaller PST loads more quickly, is easier to backup and protect, and faster to search.

Archiving any kind of content requires diligence, consistency and constant monitoring. This is especially true with e-mail because new streams of messages pile into the inbox daily.

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About the Author

Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz, author of several books on storage, is founder of the StorageIO Group, an IT industry analyst consultancy whose blog can be found at storageioblog.com and at twitter.com/storageio.

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