Archiving in Exchange Server 2013: A New Take on Retention

JUNE 3RD, 2014

Microsoft made a lot of its business users happy with the launch of Exchange Server 2010. The new flavor of nearly five years ago brought many new exciting features to the party. Among them were retention policies, database availability groups, and the personal archive. The personal archive or archive mailbox, was a welcomed feature because up until then, archiving only existed in the form of journaling – useful, but not a complete solution. In Exchange 2010, users gained the ability to keep their main mailbox free of clutter and archive old messages based on needs and company policies. Technically, nothing much has changed about archiving from Exchange 2010 to 2013 other than the name. Formerly known as the Personal Archive, In-Place Archiving lets users keep historical messages in a separate mailbox, which can be assessed by the Outlook and Outlook Web apps many businesses use on a regular basis. Despite not necessarily bringing anything new to the table on its own, this feature still manages to help take retention to another level as part of a robust suite of data management and compliance tools.

Importance of Archiving in Business

Archiving is a method companies have been using for years to help meet compliance, eDiscovery, and general data management needs. In older versions of Exchange, the journal engine recorded copies of email messages and stored them in a separate mailbox on the server. Because Exchange data may consist of contacts, calendar, and task items, in addition to emails, companies often turned to third-party solutions to support their compliance and retention needs. Storage requirements have changed over the years, so Exchange's approach to archiving had to change with it.

Getting Mailbox Items in the Archive

Rather than relying on PST files, which have their own history of troubles, organizations can use In-Place Archiving in Exchange 2013 as an efficient means of keeping old data tucked away for a rainy day. You can get your data to the archive box in three ways:

1. Manually move items. Mailbox users can migrate messages and other items from their primary inbox to the archive mailbox by moving or copying them.

2. Automated move.  Mailbox users can create rules in Outlook that automatically send messages to the archive folder from their mail client.

3. Assign retention policies. Administrators can set up retention rules that automatically move messages and data to the archive. It's also possible to import data stored in your .pst files to your archive mailboxes. Administrators can make import requests from the Exchange Management Shell, or use the PST Capture tool, which hunts down .pst files on your server and imports them to the archive. How you get your data there will probably be influenced by the dynamics of your data infrastructure.

Addressing Exchange Archive and Storage Concerns

Archiving can be a tremendous challenge from a storage standpoint. Exchange Server 2013 helps you manage storage in a couple of ways. First, archive mailboxes can be easily kept in low-cost storage containers on-premises or in the cloud. You can also manage their size by assigning quotas and enforcing restrictions. For instance, administrators can determine that users can't send or receive messages once their archive mailbox exceeds a certain capacity. It's important to give users the space they need, while keeping in mind that Exchange 2013 has a max archive size of 50 GB.

Exchange Archive Education

The archiving features in Exchange 2013 are pretty extensive, especially as they pertain to retention policies. These policies allow users to create retention tags that determine when certain items should be moved from their personal mailbox and into the archive mailbox. For example, depending on what business dictates, mailbox items can be configured to move after a year, or never. In the event that a mailbox has not been covered under a retention policy, a default policy is assigned, which rules that all items be automatically archived after two years. Companies and administrators are advised to take some time to educate users on Exchange archiving policies. A good training program will make them familiar with how to use archiving on its own and in concert with the retention policies. They should also be reminded of how messages are automatically moved (to prevent freakouts) and know the best way to navigate to content sent to the archive. Wouldn't be a bad idea to put together a knowledgebase or lighter documentation on how to get the most from archiving in Exchange. With features such as In-Place Holds, Data Loss Prevention (DLP), and new retention policies, the latest incarnation of Exchange Server is ready to handle compliance in-house and limit reliance on third-party solutions in the process. New and improved archiving capabilities join these features in giving organizations a better handle of their mission-critical business data for however long they need it. Photo Credit: Rob Pongsajapan via Flickr

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