So, Why Add an Archive to Exchange?

Last Wednesday I started with a brief overview of the integrated archiving, retention, and discovery capabilities we’re launching with Exchange Server 2010.

Good, right?

Well, a common question I get from customers, partners, analysts, our field and the like is:

“So, why are you adding an archive to Exchange?”

Great question…glad you asked! 

This is the purpose of today’s post: what’s our motivation.

The Background

For some time now, we’ve been hearing a bunch from customers about how increased regulatory and compliance pressures are driving the need for better preservation (a/k/a retention) and discovery (a/k/a search) of e-mail data. 

It should come as no surprise to anyone that e-mail is considered a valuable source corporate data, and is often sort after in legal, compliance, and personnel matters.  Even the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) were amended in 2006 to up the ante regarding the “disclosure or discovery of electronically stored information” (READ: e-mail).  On top of the rule changes, a quick search with your favorite Internet search engine reveals that e-Discovery of e-mail is on the rise.  I think the Enterprise Strategy Group has a stunning (albeit a little dated) stat regarding this trend:

“A survey by Enterprise Strategy Group shows that 91% of organizations with more than 20,000 employees have experienced an electronic discovery involving e-mail in the past 12 months.”

And, that’s just the discovery side of things.

What about adhering to regulations around data retention?

We all have our “favorites” here, like the internal controls required with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or 3-6 year retention period that comes with SEC Rule 17a-4

One of the most interesting retention policies I’ve heard comes from a conversation I had with a European-based health care provider.  They stated that they need to retain patient records (which includes e-mails between doctors and those they treat) for a period of 6 months before the patient’s birth and 10 years after their death, or 125 years (which ever comes first).

Yikes, right?

Well, it’s pretty clear that every business, agency, and organization is held to fairly stringent e-mail preservation and discovery rules.  That said, when we took a look at the adoption of adequate e-mail archiving and discovery procedures and tools, we found that only ~20% of Exchange customers have taken these steps (based on both internal Microsoft research and findings from the leading industry analyst firms). 

To quote a U.S.-based customer I spoke with on Thursday, “why am I not surprised?”

So, that means 4 out of 5 are doing nothing, relying on backup tapes, or even prayer. For some, the latter is just a matter of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” before they can get the attention and funding necessary to affect a positive change.

As you would expect, we dug a little deeper to find out why this may be the case.  What we found was it really came down to two things: 1) Experience and 2) Costs.

The Experience at a Cost

Many e-mail archiving approaches introduce an environment that can be unfamiliar to your users. For example, we’ve heard that it’s not uncommon that your users experience a disruption of their normal Inbox management workflow when archiving product add-ons are, well, added to Outlook or OWA. Search is another common scenario that exemplifies this concern. Your users may have one experience when searching their live e-mail, and yet another, outside of their familiar e-mail clients when they need to search within their archive.

And, it’s worth mentioning that when e-mail is removed from Exchange (a method oft employed by archiving solutions), your users can no longer benefit from the full fidelity of either new or existing Exchange features, like the enhanced conversation view we’ve introduced in Exchange Server 2010 or the mailbox resiliency features (like Database Availability Groups and online mailbox moves).

When it comes to administrative tasks, there could be a range of challenges from difficultly in deploying those add-ons I just mentioned, to having separate tools for conducting multi-mailbox searches across archived and live e-mail for e-discovery, or even having to learn and implement yet another infrastructure that needs to be reliable and easy to access. 

Lastly, is cost. Licensing and deploying yet another critical piece of infrastructure risks both increased costs and administrative overhead.  This includes the costs around the end-user training required to teach new e-mail habits and practices (or the extra helpdesk calls when someone needs to find something that’s not in Outlook).

This may just be a summary of our findings, but certainly would appreciate hearing what other barriers you may have come across in evaluating such a solution (READ: how about some comments? <g>).

The Eco-System?

Let me stop here for one second and address a question that may be coming to mind:

“What about 3rd party solutions?”  

Well, it’s simple: Exchange has and shall continue to benefit from an eco-system of solutions that add great value to the platform (cue marketing fanfare).

No seriously, it’s true.

In fact, we’re already working with many of these very same e-mail archiving partners, helping to map out how they can utilize our extensibility features to add to the capabilities we’re shipping in Exchange 2010, all while delivering the user and IT Pro experiences our Exchange customers come to expect from us by keeping the e-mail in Exchange (more on that later!).

The Exchange 2010 Difference

No matter what your organization’s motivation is for adopting an e-mail archiving solution (e.g., rid yourself of PST files, mailbox management, e-Discovery or even regulatory compliance), I think you’ll find our approach of interest. As I said back in my last post, a key differentiator about what we’re doing here is the fact you get to preserve the user and the IT Pro experience while you’re preserving and enabling easy discovery of your e-mail data.  And, that is a big reason why we’ve added these features.  If we can help drive up adoption of proper e-mail retention and discovery, everyone wins. 

And, this may be something of a paradigm shift for many of you, i.e., keeping e-mail in Exchange to archive it.

To be clear, we’re not shipping a stand alone e-mail archiving product here, but instead are adding integrated archiving, retention, and discovery capabilities right into our e-mail server (and a market leading one at that!).

This means not only do you get the benefits from these e-mail retention and discovery features, you also gain from all of the new mailbox resiliency (read: HA and DR) and storage platform advancements we continue to deliver in every release of Exchange.

There’s still a lot more to talk about in this space, and that will be kicked off in my next post about the Personal Archive bit.

Blog Reader Poll or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Add Comments to Ian’s Blog…

This week’s question: so, what’s your motivation for archiving your e-mail?

-- hama

Comments (2)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Bruno!  Sounds like you’ve given me a good topic for a future blog post. Thanks!  Regarding your question: I’ll ask what if you could put all of your data on more cost effective storage?  That is, co-locate your live and archive data in one place, and utilize the native mailbox resiliency features of Exchange?  Granted, at RTM, this does not allow you to set different RPO/RTOs regarding recovery, but you do have a chance to shift your HA/DR approach in a way that gives your users a great experience even when there’s a hardware failure or a mailbox move.  

    As for "tiered storage", yes this is something that we are considering for a post-RTM milestone.  Feedback received.

  2. Bruno says:


    While I like the idea of having an archiving solution integrated into exchange, I think that the current version misses one very important point: cost.

    One of the main reasons archiving is put in place – besides compliance – is the fact that it moves a lot of data to cheaper disks, as very high availability and short time Disaster Recovery is not required anymore for those ‘old’ emails. For what i have read so far, Exchange 2010 does not allow you to put the archive on a different set of disks. Or did I miss something ? Is this in the plans for SP1?

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