I recently overheard an Exchange Server administrator mention that he was using Microsoft SharePoint for email archiving. This struck me as odd, since SharePoint isn't designed as a message repository. I decided to look into how SharePoint could be used as an email archiving solution and if it's even a good idea.
To test this, I devised my own method for using SharePoint as a message repository that allows you to email enable lists and libraries. By doing so, you can add an item to a list or library by emailing it to a dedicated email address.
It seems that I could create a dedicated SharePoint list that could be used solely for storing message archives. It's then possible to create an Exchange 2007 transport rule that sends a copy of every message that flows through the transport pipeline to the email address associated with the list. It takes some work to make this configuration work, but the concept behind it is quite simple.
Advantages of using SharePoint for email archiving
Now that we see how you can use Microsoft SharePoint for an email archiving solution, the next question is should you? Here are some advantages:
- Microsoft SharePoint uses a SQL Server database. This means that message archives aren't stored on an Exchange server, but in an isolated database on a different server. This isolation is a key component to complying with various regulations that require message archiving.
- SharePoint allows you to build elaborate workflows. You can create workflows that look for certain types of messages and send copies to an administrator. This works well to ensure that users aren't sending confidential information via email. Incidentally, you can perform many of the same types of tasks directly through Exchange Server using transport rules.
SharePoint can be configured to perform content lifecycle management. With a little work, you can configure SharePoint to eliminate messages that have exceeded a required retention period.
- SharePoint also has a dynamic built-in search engine, which makes it easy to perform discovery against your archives.
Disadvantages of using SharePoint for email archiving
Using Microsoft SharePoint to archive email messages in an Exchange environment seems to have several benefits. However, you should also consider these disadvantages.
- SharePoint wasn't designed as an archiving solution, so some features that are standard in most archiving products don't exist in SharePoint.
Most archiving products allow you to freeze archives in order to prevent messages from expiring. You'll need this feature if your archives are subpoenaed. This capability is available in SharePoint, but you have to build it.
- SharePoint email archival can affect system performance. SharePoint servers typically contain multiple libraries, lists and sites. Message archiving tends to be a demanding function that can negatively affect the performance of other sites, lists and libraries that are running on the server.
If you're are seriously considering using SharePoint for message archiving and have more than a few dozen users, you should probably use a dedicated SharePoint server and database.
- This technique requires the use of a dedicated email address. If a spammer or malicious user were to discover this address, they could insert content directly into your archives -- even if they don't have write permissions to the list. In fact, a user would not even have to be authenticated to submit content to the archives.
About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a five-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services (IIS), and File Systems and Storage. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, Brien has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.
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