Are the Built-In Office 365 Exchange Archiving Features Enough?

Note:  This following is focused on the features of the Office 365 enterprise plans (E3 and E4).
Messaging records management (MRM) is the term Microsoft uses to describe the technology available in Exchange to make it easier to keep messages that are needed to comply with government regulations, organizational policies, or legal needs, and to removecontent that no longer has business or legal value.  Retention tags and policies, legal holds, eDiscovery and journaling rules are the tools of the trade. But are the built-in Office 365 Exchange archiving features enough?
The Office 365 enterprise plans already offer a generous 25 gigabyte mailbox storage limit per account.  An unlimited in-place archive also comes with an enterprise level subscription.  Other features include:

  • Customizable retention policies and tags
  • 30 Gigabytes of storage for items that have been deleted (better known as the “recover deleted items” option
  • The ability for admins to extend the recoverable time from the 14 day default up to 30 days via PowerShell
  • Legal hold capabilities that retain all emails on an account (deleted or not) during a discovery period
  • Auditing and eDiscovery reports and searches

These features are enough to satisfy some organizations, but some of the limitations include:

  • In-place archiving keeps your archived data in the same physical location as your active email which is not a best practice or acceptable DR strategy for many companies
  • Search and eDiscovery capabilities are not as robust or granular as many third-party archiving solutions
  • No ability to export search results to formats other than Outlook PST files
  • The legal hold feature does not capture distribution list membership or BCC’s
  • A maximum of 15% of the mailboxes in Office 365 can be placed on hold at any given time

If your organization needs a more robust archiving solution, Office 365 does have a feature called Journaling which will give you the ability to collect all communications entering or leaving to be copied and sent to a third party.  These third party archiving solutions reduce or eliminate the limitations inherit to the built-in Office 365 offering for just a few dollars a month per mailbox.   They provide a location outside Microsoft’s datacenters to store copies of all communications, as well as more granular search and eDiscovery capabilities.
Some solutions even offer unlimited retention and unlimited storage for your archives.  You can safely delete those old employee accounts on Office 365 and stop paying the monthly fee for an unused account knowing your old data is still as safe and eDiscoverable as it was before.  Some of the major players in the third party archiving arena include GFI MailEssentials Online, Gwava Retain, and Sonian.  As more and more organizations move the burden of email management to Office 365, the competition to solve any perceived shortcomings from the platform will only increase and provide more reasons to move your email to the cloud.