On-Prem vs Cloud Email Archiving

Frederic Bouget, VP of Products at IPRO

When evaluating information archiving solutions whether for storage management, for regulatory compliance or litigation, the question of using cloud email archiving or on-premises archiving is often brought up.Let’s try to evaluate the various pros and cons of both solutions. Understand that there’s no one size fits all answer and that the better option for you depends on your current situation. Here are the major points to consider.

The Benefits of Cloud Email Archiving

The key benefits of SAAS apply to cloud-based email archiving. The first one is that there is no hardware to buy and no systems to manage. In the cloud, you get fully managed services. You only need to learn how to use the product, not how to operate the related infrastructure.

This does not mean that there aren’t some administrative tasks or configuration to be done. Many cloud archiving subscriptions are made with this erroneous assumption, managed with not enough resources, or left to employees that do not have the expertise/time to manage it properly.

Another important benefit of online email archiving services is that they’re always on and typically available from anywhere. This gives a lot of flexibility to users and enables them to work remotely without VPNs or other remote access to corporate services. From a financial perspective, cloud archiving is an operational expense that does not require upfront investment and therefore helps among cash outlay.

Finally, most cloud-based email archiving solutions don’t cost an amount that’s proportional to the storage used. This is a huge advantage as the retention & deletion policies no longer need to be driven by storage cost and can fully align with business and legal needs. Note, some vendors will have an upper bound on the amount of data you may have in their system, but that is usually very high.

The Challenges of the Cloud

This leads me to the number one challenge of cloud email archiving solutions. Vendor lock-in. The providers know that the more of your data they have the harder it will be for you to leave and most vendors will not provide an easy way to allow you to migrate away from their services. You will need to ask for permission to get your data out of their archive. Furthermore, most charge egress fees which can be very expensive. Think $10k per TB.

If you’re about to sign a cloud archiving contract, you need to make sure that there is a reasonable exit process. You also need to make sure you like the solution enough to be there for a long time. Don’t expect that you will be able to manually export the data. Most vendors have a limit on the amount of data you can export even if it’s for litigation.

The reality is that these vendors have based their storage on public cloud services like AWS that charge egress fees. (To counter this trend, we have an open solution – a no vendor lock-in policy. The data is yours, and you can do what you want with it.)

Getting in can be as hard as well. Depending on where your historical information is stored and how much of it you need to hold on to, you will need to move it to the cloud. There’s a cost associated with that effort. For example, if you are running a mailstore on-premises using a hosted email archiving solution you’ll need to export your emails from your server to the cloud. That may be a good time to think about getting rid of some ROT.

Also, most hosted email archiving vendors only support journaling. This is the simplest way to offer an email archiving solution. A copy of all of the emails are sent to a third-party address. By doing so, the actual information that is stored only in the mailboxes is lost. The possibility to restore a mailbox after a mistake is also lost. (This is why we prefer, and offer, full mailbox archiving.)In general cloud services are considered more secure than internal data centers – for all the right reasons (server redundancy and data-center hardening). However, their high ubiquity makes them very attractive for account phishing attacks which becomes your weakest link. Proper account, user security, and training need to be put in place or reinforced as organizations move to the cloud.

Finally, choosing a cloud-based archive can make archiving data from on-premises sources very challenging. For example, many cloud systems will not have the ability to archive file shares or Sharepoint installed on-premises. The data sources you are going to archive, their accessibility from the cloud, and the archive’s vendor ability to connect to them is a key factor to consider.

The Benefits of On-Premise Archiving

Deciding between cloud and on-premises archiving comes down to one major question. Are you already operating a data center and will you continue to do so?

If you are, the overall costs of running an archiving solution in your own data center may be a lot less than running it in the cloud. When you look at the price of software licenses, it typically hovers at 3x less than a cloud service. If you are already running a large computer farm for your business applications and collaboration tools, you will find that the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) is much lower for running solutions in-house.

The reality is that you will only need to scale storage for the archive – there are plenty of software providing object storage (like AWS S3) and can reduce the management and costs to almost zero while providing redundancy and reliability – even higher than what can be achieved with most collaboration system and certainly higher than what is offered in the cloud.

Sharing the same data center with your other collaboration tool makes it easy to connect and archive the data without any complicated contraption, such as remote servers and VPNs. Everything resides together on high-performance connectivity – this allows you to archive a wider set of application data than when sitting in the cloud.

From a legal standpoint, there is a confidence that comes with having the data physically at hand. It is comforting to have a copy of the data insight and having the ability to manage risk at a level your organization is comfortable with. It also makes meeting all of your compliance needs easier, whether they’re related to archiving (ISO 14641), HIPAA, GDPR, or other data protection requirements.

The Challenges of On-Premise

There are obviously also some downsides to running your archive in your own data center. The main one applies to small organizations that can’t guarantee the same level of data protection as cloud providers. Being able to operate data center redundancy may not be possible for them when what matters for an archiving system is not losing data. Although, it is possible to set up redundant storage systems to support a disaster recovery strategy, at a rather low cost.

The amount of work required to manage your archive solution is an integral part of your TCO. If the system is not scaled properly or the software is not stable, this can be a demanding task. Each archiving software will have its own resource footprint, which is difficult to compare. But for most solutions, when deployed properly and under steady-state, management should be minimal. This said, a lot of archiving software providers offer advanced support or managed service either directly or through a partner to take this off your hands.

Is Choosing This Simple?

This was a rather simplified way to compare cloud and on-premises archiving. Many deployment scenarios weren’t covered. For example, running your system in a public cloud, like Azure (in your tenant or your partner’s tenant), or having it run by a managed service provider.

There are plenty of options on how to operate an archiving solution, so you should be able to find one that meets your needs and your budget. However, do take the time to figure it out.