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Finding the Time to Archive Mailboxes

Created: 02 Jun 2014 • Updated: 02 Jun 2014
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Rob.Wilcox's picture
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With the every increasing need to provide 24x7 round the world access to computer systems, online and archived data, a question which is often asked is:

When is the best time to do an archiving run across Exchange Mailboxes?

In this article I’ll walk you through two different approaches to when you might run archiving in your environment. Which should you choose? Well, that’s down to you, your business processes and your needs.

Background

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Many people have Enterprise Vault labs configured without safety copies. This means that when an item is archived as part of a run now of the archiving task, a scheduled run of the archiving task, or even an end user selecting some items to manually archive, that the items are turned fully into shortcuts immediately.  This sort of operation normally aids testing, and, also means that it is not necessary to perform backups on a test environment. 

A production environment though should almost always not be configured this way. A production environment should be configured with safety copies turned on. This means that the items get archived, and indexed, but are not replaced by ‘proper’ shortcuts until a backup has been performed. Executing this backup operation informs the Storage File Watch process within Enterprise Vault to fully process the item and turn it into a shortcut because it is now secured.

But when is the best time to do all of the different tasks? Exchange Mailbox Archiving, Enterprise Vault backups, and Exchange backups all take time, and have to fitted in somewhere. Let’s discuss a couple of options:

Mailbox Archiving After Exchange and EV Backups

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In this situation the Enterprise Vault archiving task would start after Exchange and EV backups have taken place. For example Exchange and EV backups might take place between 8pm and midnight. From 1am to 4am Enterprise Vault could do it’s mailbox archiving routines. Then, by around 5am Enterprise Vault will be ready to take on board it’s daytime load.

In some ways this is good.

You have a nicely backed-up environment to start to work in with the archiving task. If things go wrong during the next day, you have a reasonably consistent, solid place to go back to.

But, for some there is a big down side to this approach. That down side is the time that the archived items will remain pending. In this example items will stay pending from 4am through to somewhere between 8pm and midnight. Almost a whole day.  This might be okay in some environment, but for many environments this will lead to pain for end-users. 

Remember that pending items in Enterprise Vault are special, and can’t be moved.  So end users will get annoyed at not being able to manipulate these items which are pending - some (if they have the button in Outlook) might even start to ‘Cancel pending’ them, just so that they can work on them, particularly if they want to move them around into subfolders that they have already created.

Don’t get me wrong though this approach isn’t all doom and gloom. Many organisations run like this, and they have archiving policies which don’t involve quotas, meaning only quite old emails will be archived. Users are not as likely to want to manipulate them, or file them away during the time that they’re pending (because they are ‘long forgotten about’ emails)

Mailbox Archiving Before Exchange and EV Backups

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In this situation Enterprise Vault would run it’s archiving routines from say 8pm to midnight. At about 1am to 5am Exchange and Enterprise Vault backups would take place.

This is in several ways is good. The most important aspect is that it reduces the time that items are pending. Mails will be in that state for just a few hours, and, provided the organisations Exchange and EV servers are spread out to match geographies, or that the organisation isn’t 24x7, these few hours will be the middle of the night.

Few if any people will be working, whilst the items remaining pending.

The following day users will be greeted with fully archived items, shortcuts perhaps (depending on policy) and these can be manipulated just like regular emails.

It also means that the time taken before realise some of the space savings of archiving emails will also be minimised because after all the pending archive item still takes up the same amount of space as the original non-archived item.

Some people don’t like this approach though because it feels less consistent to the overall picture than the first approach, but I don’t think it’s every been proven to be worse.

Summary

To my mind the best time to perform archiving in an environment where Enterprise Vault is being used with Microsoft Exchange is to perform an archiving run before any Enterprise Vault and Exchange backups have taken place. This will lead to the shortest time frame for items to be marked as simply ‘pending archive’ in the users mailbox. It is also the shortest time before the pending items are secured and backed up, giving a high level of data integrity and resilience.

When do you do your archiving, and backups? Let me know in the comments below.