The following was originally published on May 15, 2016 on Seacoastonline.com.
How many folders do you have in your mailbox? Just the default of Inbox, Deleted Items, Drafts, Outbox and Sent Items? I doubt it. I have seen some statistics that suggest average mailboxes contain dozens of folders beyond the defaults and upwards of 25,000 individual messages.
While mail servers have matured over the years to support this exponentially growing use of email as a file storage medium, as well as to support the increasing use of electronic mail for near real-time communication, there are still limitations. There are numerous considerations to take in to account when using email to both communicate and store information for future reference.
While most mail systems will support extremely large mailboxes, some to the tune of tens of gigabytes and hundreds of thousands of items, the computer you are working on could cause performance issues, even though you have not theoretically reached the limits of your mail system. An example of this would be a large mailbox, say in the area of 100,000 mail items and 20 gigabytes in size. With most mail systems, the mail is stored both on your server as well as a local cache, that is a copy of what’s on the server that is actually stored in a single file on your computer’s hard drive.
With a large mailbox, this generates a lot of read and write requests to the data and may put a heavy load on your computers resources. The nature of this activity benefits from newer, faster hard drives like solid state drives, as opposed to the traditional mechanical drive. Random access memory, RAM, also helps in this case. A computer that has worked quite well for years may seem to be underperforming when dealing with a very large mailbox. You may see your email be slow to work through, your email application periodically pauses, search not function reliably and other symptoms. It can be a very frustrating experience.
Email archiving is a solution to many of these issues and more. Email archiving is often misunderstood, as many email applications have an archiving feature, yet that’s not the same as archiving in the context of this article. Email archiving within an email application simply involves copying messages based on a range of criteria from the original mailbox to an archive copy and then removing those messages from the archive copy. While this makes the original mailbox itself smaller and easier to work with, it simply transfers a given number and size of email from the mailbox to this archive, which is also sitting on the local computer hard drive. Thus performance impacts may still be in play as these archives continue to grow just as the mailbox itself has been.
True business class email archiving involves setting retention rules on the mailboxes to automatically clean out email messages over a certain age, say anything 18 months old and older. These messages are automatically captured into an online archive that is outside of and separate from the mail server and your mail application. This keeps the size of your mailbox within established best practices limits while ensuring you are able to search and find historical email reliably and efficiently.
What’s unique with archiving like this is that your current mail is also available in the archive as soon as it is received or sent. While you may still use your mail application to manage and search for messages within the time limits that are enforced, in this example 18 months, you would also be able to rely one hundred percent on your email archive to search or any mail message. Another unique element of email archiving is that you are able to search for messages by conversation or topic. This allows you to bundle up all mail messages related to a particular topic and recover them a single file. This can be very valuable when dealing with contact negotiations, legal issues and more.
With email being so heavily relied on, problems can’t be prevented all the time, but as companies grow and email usage increases, archiving is an excellent protocol to insert to help manage your growth while ensuring people can do their work efficiently