Email Archiving vs. Email Backdrop: What’s the Difference?

09.07.2022
Small Business

The following article was first published on ADNET Technologies’ website. It is reposted here with permission. 


Email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (no matter how much we may wish it would). 

For many organizations, keeping records of important email data is more important than ever. 

Even the most comprehensive email platforms, such as Microsoft 365, may not include everything needed to protect your email data. 

When discussing retention options, our team is often asked, “What’s the difference between email backup and email archiving, and why would I need one or the other, or both?” 

Let’s discuss email archiving vs. email backup.

Is email backup the same thing as email archiving?

Let’s get this common misconception out of the way first. 

No, email backup is NOT the same thing as email archiving. 

Just because you have an email backup does not mean you are archiving your email. This is a critical distinction. 

Although some use the terms interchangeably, there are technical, business, risk, and compliance differences between the two kinds of solutions.

If we go back in time, it’s easy to see why confusion lingers today. 

It was common for businesses to backup email data to tape, which could be stored offsite, for archiving purposes.

Before cloud solutions became a commodity, it was common for businesses to backup email data to tape, which could be stored offsite, for archiving purposes.

But before we get too nostalgic for simpler times, let’s remember that wasn’t a great solution even at the time. 

According to an AIIM user survey dating back to at least 2010, “63% of organizations [had] little or no confidence that emails related to commitments and obligations made by themselves and their staff [were] recorded, complete and recoverable.” 

Manually searching for emails and restoring from tape took time—a lot of time—the process often failed, and the costs of successful retrieval could be enormous. 

Email archiving solutions exist for good reason.

What’s the difference between email archiving vs. email backup?

Today’s email backup and email archiving solutions are designed for different, albeit both necessary functions.

Email backup protects against user error and accidental loss

Email backup and recovery solutions are designed to store records of email data, safeguarding them against intentional or accidental loss and enabling any lost data to be easily and quickly restored.

The most common use case for email backup solutions is to protect organizations from user error. 

For example, how many times have your users (or you) accidentally deleted an important email? 

Reliable email backup solutions are built for convenience and speed.

If that email wasn’t backed up, you can waste hours tracking down another copy, try to recapture the lost content from memory or worse, face the negative consequences of having permanently lost important information.

Reliable email backup solutions are built for convenience and speed, allowing IT administrators to easily locate and quickly restore the “oops, I deleted something important” file in question.

In most cases, it’s faster to restore files from an email backup than an email archive. 

For IT, this scenario is no longer a crisis; it’s just a normal day at work.

Email archiving is a business and regulatory compliance necessity

Email archiving solutions were created to make retention challenges easier to manage and to meet legal and regulatory compliance needs. 

Enterprise-level email archiving solutions use journaling functions to record what comes in and what goes out, provide a secure place to store that information and are designed to be easily searchable. 

In the event of a legal issue, these features can be the difference between your ability to seamlessly comply with an e-discovery request while business goes on as usual or watching your operations come to a halt while your resources work around the clock to fulfill the request.

What’s the risk of having email backup without an email archive?

Unlike email archives, most email backups aren’t configured to run in real-time. 

To save space and preserve performance, they run periodically. 

Unlike email archives, most email backups aren’t configured to run in real-time.

If an email is received and permanently deleted between backup runs, it will never be captured by the backup. 

Even if backup is configured to run every five minutes, think about how much email the average business user can receive and delete in five minutes. 

Multiply that by the number of users in your organization and the number of windows between backups, and that’s a lot of potential data loss.

When do organizations need both email archive and email backup?

Organizations under certain regulatory compliance requirements are required to have an email archiving solution, not just email backup. 

Configuring a backup to act like an archive won’t satisfy this requirement. In most cases, you’ll want both solutions.

Below are examples of situations where an email archiving solution may be needed along with an email backup strategy. 

Organizations under certain regulatory compliance requirements are required to have an email archiving solution.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are common examples:

  • Healthcare organizations or any business subject to HIPAA compliance.
  • Organizations under Financial Industry Regulatory Authority compliance.
  • Legal or professional services firms that need to retain records of all correspondence.
  • Organizations dealing with contracts that may rely on email archiving to keep records of communication.
  • Organizations that want to provide more self-service options to their users – some archiving solutions enable end-users to search for their own data.

About the author: Gerry Battista is ADNET’s vice president of service operations, oversees ADNET’s information technology design, implementation, and technical support teams.

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