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E-mail archiving software shopping tips contributor Brien Posey outlines the benefits of third-party e-mail archiving software, and explains what to look for when comparison shopping.

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E-mail archiving software can be expensive -- but it's worth the price for a few of reasons:

  1. Good e-mail archiving software reduces the size of your Exchange Server information store. Sure, Exchange Server 2003 doesn't have an information store size limit, but your Exchange server's performance will suffer if you leave tens of thousands of old messages just sitting in the database.

  2. It's a huge timesaver when you need to find a specific piece of information. Restoring a backup tape to retrieve a deleted message is tedious at best. If you're relying on backup tapes, finding a message is like looking for a needle in multiple haystacks; you'd have to figure out which backup tape contained the message before you could even begin to hunt for the message.

  3. It lets you peruse archives via search engine. Every archiving product is different, but typically, you can search based on things like date, sender, recipient, subject, keyword, and mail server (e.g., show me all messages from server A). This can be especially helpful if you need to retrieve a large number of messages. For example, if your company was being sued and the judge wanted to see every e-mail from the last five years related to the Smith account, it would be nearly impossible to produce those messages manually (without missing a few). An archiving software's search engine would make the task simple though.

What to look for when comparison shopping for e-mail archiving software

When comparison shopping, the first thing to consider is the method used to archive messages. There are some products that work by modifying the Exchange Server information store -- which is a bad idea, in my opinion. A modified information store can lead to unpredictable results when applying service packs or when upgrading to a newer version of Microsoft Exchange.

Some archiving products work by dumping archived messages into .PST files. I'm not necessarily opposed to using .PST files as an archival mechanism, but if you're thinking about buying a .PST-based archiving product, there are some important questions you need to ask the vendor. First, make sure that the .PST files are not subject to the 2 GB limit that applies to some .PST formats. Also, check to make sure that administrators have the option to search across multiple .PST files simultaneously.

If you are thinking of buying a SQL Server-based product, ask the vendor about its largest real-world deployment. That way you can make sure the software can handle your organization's needs. Even if your company is small, this is a good question to ask, because, you may accumulate significantly more messages in your database over the next few years. .

Regardless of the type of archiving software you purchase, ask the vendor if its software archives message attachments. Some vendor software only archives the message itself. If the archiving software does support attachments, then make sure that the attachments are searchable.

Security is also a huge consideration when shopping for e-mail archiving software. Find out if users can restore messages on their own, and make sure that they can't delete anything from the archives or access other users' messages.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at

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