On Archiving vs. Compliance

Here at risual, my colleagues and I speak to many different customers. In Exchange Workshops, I often ask about a customer’s Archiving and Compliance policies.

The following definitions are the rules of thumb I use when explaining the difference between the two:

  • Archiving is the storage of emails that have been chosen for retention.
  • Compliance is the mandatory requirement, legal or otherwise, for you to retain all emails.

These may seem the same but there is a subtle difference between the two and it’s to do with the timing behind them.

Archiving software/appliances will scan a mailbox after delivery for items to be retained according to a retention policy. For example: if there is a retention policy that archives emails older than 30 days; the archiving software will scan through all the mailboxes every night and archive off any emails older than 30 days. However this doesn’t prevent a user from deleting/altering a critical email before it falls into scope of the retention policy.

Compliance, on the other hand, occurs before the email is delivered to a user’s mailbox. As soon as it is received by the mail server, a copy of the email is made and copied to elsewhere (either a mailbox or dedicated server/appliance).

When using Exchange in an On-Premises solution, my colleagues and I have a variety of tools available to deliver these options. Archiving can either be the native Exchange capability or a dedicated software solution, with retention policies and tags designed to meet a company’s internal needs. Compliance can be delivered through a process called Journaling, either at the database level or the transport level.

With Exchange Online, similar tools are available to us. For archiving, Exchange Online has the native capability to host archive mailboxes with the same retention policies and tags as the On-Premises Exchange. However Journaling does not exist in Exchange Online. Instead we can use transport rules to provide a similar functionality.

With the creation of the Security and Compliance Center, Microsoft have provided a single location to manage and configure Archiving. In addition, they have provided a new method for Compliance through the use of Preservation Policies. These are similar to the In-Place Hold function of eDiscovery, except that they can also preserve Skype for Business conversations and SharePoint libraries.

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