Email Archiving: A Key Component of Business Continuity

In recent years, increasing corporate digital networking in globalized economies together with the digitization of in-house business processes have led to a sharp rise in business-critical information held in electronic form. This data can be stored in-house on the company’s own systems (on-premises), as well as in cloud services (private or public clouds). Also, hybrid approaches in which data is stored and processed both in-house and via cloud services are becoming increasingly common. Keeping this data permanently available is essential for the business success of any company, and a core task of any corporate IT strategy. In most cases, failure of the IT infrastructure and the unavailability of important data will disrupt business and could even jeopardize the success of a company. If lost data cannot be recovered, a company’s very existence may even be at stake, depending on the scale of the loss.

There is also the risk of economic sanctions if statutory regulations on storing business-relevant data are violated. This is because – depending on the country and the sector of industry – processing emails and storing data over time so that it is permanently available can be subject to varying legal and regulatory requirements. This applies particularly to highly regulated sectors such as healthcare, the financial industry, and to government institutions and educational establishments. In certain circumstances, breaches can even result in litigation under civil law.

There are many reasons why software or hardware systems may fail, or data become unavailable or even lost altogether. From simple user errors to deliberate manipulation (e.g. malicious deleting of data by employees, or cyber attacks from outside the company), to natural hazards (e.g. flooding after heavy rain) or other incalculable reasons (e.g. fire in the company building). Likewise, business operations can be disrupted if the infrastructure of the cloud provider whose services are being used is affected.

What Does Business Continuity Mean?

Companies manage this kind of risk as part of their Business Continuity (BC) strategy. Here, activities and processes are defined to prevent disruption to or failure of a company’s business capability or, in an emergency, to get business up and running again as quickly as possible. Since business processes and IT systems can change over time, this package of measures must be regularly reviewed for effectiveness. In this way, any necessary adjustments can be identified.

An important part of business continuity management is Disaster Recovery, which deals with securing and restoring the necessary technical infrastructure, i.e. the business-critical data and all the IT networks and systems. Backups and email archiving provide valuable support here.

Backups and Email Archiving as Part of Disaster Recovery

Backups store a company’s data (e.g. the data of communication programs used or of the ERP software) at a specific point in time. If data is lost, data subsets or entire systems or servers can be restored from the backup. However, the backup volumes only reflect the data that existed at the time the backup was created. Changes made after the backup are not recorded. This means that backups need to be performed regularly – taking into account costs and benefits – so that the backed-up data remains as up-to-date as possible.

In addition to regular backups, the use of a professional e-mail archiving solution is recommended. Given that emails are still the most important communication medium and can hold vast numbers of business-critical documents, it’s important that this data is fully backed up over many years in a form that is tamper-proof so that all e-mails can still be accessed in the case of a loss. A positive side-effect: a professional email archiving solution can help a company comply with data privacy requirements and provide support with tax and commercial legislation specific to certain countries and sectors of industry. Remember that archives should always be backed up, too!

In addition, an email archiving solution can help simplify backup and recovery processes with regards to the email server: keeping the volume of data stored on an email server low means that less time and storage capacity are needed for the backup process – so, after a catastrophic event, you’ll be able to restore your mail server from the backup volumes faster.

Objectives Email Backups Email
Archiving
Eliminate mailbox quotas
Eliminate PST files
Reduce storage requirements through de-duplication and compression
Reduce the workload of email servers and simplify backup and restore processes
Provide complete, tamper-proof and long-term email retention
Helps to meet compliance requirements
Assistance with eDiscovery scenarios
Full-text indexing of emails for fast searches
End users: restore lost emails quickly and easily
Fully applies
Applies
Partially applies
Applies to a lesser extent
Doesn’t apply

The statements in this table are based on the fundamental concepts of backups and email archiving. The functions of backup and email archiving solutions may vary depending on the provider.

Use Cases and Specific Areas of Application

In practice, different scenarios can materialize that justify deploying a professional email archiving solution as a key component of business continuity and ideal complement to an existing backup system.

If, for example, the email server fails (regardless of whether this is kept on-prem or is in the cloud), it can be restored by means of a backup. However, any emails received and sent between the last backup taking place and the server failing are missing. An appropriately configured email archive can solve this problem and ensure that the complete mail inventory is accessible.

Another common scenario is the unavailability or loss of business-critical emails on the email server due to a ransomware or malware attack. The loss or theft of data may not only disrupt business operations, but also pose a high risk in terms of compliance with the statutory retention laws that govern business-critical data. The email archiving solution must be able to store all relevant emails and file attachments completely and in a form that is tamper-proof and permanently available and retrievable.

Choosing the Right Archiving Strategy

It’s essential, however, that the right archiving strategy is chosen. Professional email archiving solutions allow businesses to choose between different strategic archiving approaches, depending on their needs. If legally compliant email archiving is the prime focus, so-called journal archiving could be the best option. Alternatively, if offloading the email server is the main objective, mailbox archiving in tandem with specific delete rules may be the better bet. A combination of the two approaches is also feasible.

In all cases, it’s important to have a powerful search and export function that – depending on the configuration – can be made available to users on a self-service basis. This means that users can quickly and easily regain access to their old emails and restore them independently if necessary. This eliminates the need for laborious recovery requests made to IT staff to restore emails from backups. This reduces the workload on the IT department. The desired results in terms of e-discovery processes can be achieved, too. For example, in the case of litigation where emails are being used as evidence, an employee or external auditor may be asked to search through the company’s entire email stocks and, if necessary, export these records in a standard format.

Conclusion

The permanent availability of data and IT systems is a prerequisite for the ongoing business success of many companies and, thus, an indispensable part of corporate strategy. In order to safeguard business continuity, many potential risks and vulnerabilities must be taken into account when creating backup policies for emergency situations. Email archiving can make a valuable contribution to securing the business-critical data contained in emails and, together with backups, be crucial when it comes to implementing a workable disaster recovery plan.

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