Add mail archiving to Exchange: GFI MailArchiver Review

Product: GFI MailArchiver

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60-day Trial Version: click here

How it works

Without a solution like GFI MailArchiver, digging up old email messages is usually a long and arduous process that involves restoring old mailboxes and searching through messages manually. While there’s no question that different techniques exist to speed up the process, most are involved and cumbersome to say the least.

GFI MailArchiver takes a totally different approach to archiving messages sent and received via your Exchange servers. Instead of attempting to manipulate your message stores, it takes advantage of the archiving capabilities of Exchange to send copies of all messages to a SQL Server database on your network. Then, when you need to find a specific message to or from a particular user, all messages in a certain email exchange, or even all messages that contain a given text string, you’re in luck. All you need to do is access the GFI MailArchiver web client, input your query, and let the SQL database handle the rest. All messages meeting your criteria will immediately be displayed, and the need to perform any type of restore a thing of the past.

Why you need it

The ability to quickly search for old email messages with GFI MailArchiver is certainly impressive, but may actually be more helpful than you think. The first and most obvious use is to search for that missing message, as was the case with Steve from the Sales department. You could also choose to let Steve search through his own messages via the web interface, or dedicate another person to the task.

The second reason why archiving messages is important is to comply with regulatory requirements such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and many others. According to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and SEC regulations, all public companies must archive all correspondence for 7 years for audit and review purposes, email included. GFI MailArchiver is the perfect tool in this regard – all you’ll need to do is configure it to archive all messages, and then ensure that you back up the associated SQL Server database as required.

Even if your company isn’t public or subject to these regulations, message archiving is still important for legal reasons relating to business policies. For example, if certain workplace policies on discrimination were violated, or other unethical practices were to occur, the email messages of the people in question would almost certainly be required. GFI MailArchiver would provide the perfect way to quickly assemble the necessary information.

Finally, Exchange message stores grow over time. In large organizations, they can quickly become nearly unmanageable, and negatively impact server performance. By archiving all email messages in an external database, more stringent mailbox and message store cleanup/maintenance practices can be undertaken. The more efficient SQL Server database acts as your accessible message archive, while your Exchange servers benefit from a smaller message store, and by extension, better overall performance.

Preparation

While other archiving solutions make changes to Exchange’s underlying database architecture, GFI MailArchiver circumvents this dangerous and potentially problematic undertaking by avoiding changes to your Exchange servers completely. Instead, it uses a SQL database to archive all messages sent and received, taking advantage of the archiving and journaling capabilities of Exchange Server. In other words, GFI MailArchiver poses no direct risk to the stability of your mail organization.

The pre-setup process for GFI MailArchiver is amazingly simple. First, you’ll need to ensure that IIS is installed on your server, and that ASP.NET is properly registered. Then you’ll need to create a new SQL Server database to store the archive. If you don’t have a SQL Server available or accessible during the testing period, not to worry; GFI MailArchiver includes the ability to create an Access database to store the archive. This option isn’t suitable for production environments – an Access database can’t offer the required performance, and doesn’t store the bodies of email messages, making it unsuitable for advanced searching. However, it’s a suitable interim solution for testing.

Once you’ve created your database and associated database use account, you’ll need to configure a mailbox-enabled recipient, and then configure this account as the one to which all messages should be archived, as shown below.

If necessary, you can also enable the envelope journaling feature of Microsoft Exchange to ensure that complete message headers are also stored in your archive (BCC information, etc). If you’re serious about having complete archives, then you’ll definitely want to enable this feature. It’s easy enough to do with either the Exejcfg.exe tool (a download from the Microsoft web site), or ADSI Edit – either method is valid.

Installation and Configuration

Once your environment is properly prepared, it’s time to install the GFI MailArchiver software – a very straightforward wizard-based process. When complete, you can access its configuration from the All Programs menu, or by firing up your web browser and heading to http://servername/MailArchiver. This web interface is used to configure GFI MailArchiver settings, as well as perform searches against the message archive database.

There’s really nothing to getting GFI MailArchiver configured. You start by opening the Database tab, and configuring settings related to your SQL or Access database. Once that’s done, click on the Exchange Stores tab to ensure that the archive mailbox you configured in Exchange is listed, click Start polling, and then click Save. From this point forward, all messages forwarded to the archive mailbox are automatically archived to your configured database.

Advanced Options and Searching

Once of the best features of GFI MailArchiver is that the software takes into account that every organization’s needs are going to be slightly different. For example, you can configure the software to never archive messages sent or received to certain users, and specify a single Active Directory group that will have the ability to search through all messages, from any user. Of course, allowing any group of users to have access to all archived email messages has very real privacy- and security-related concerns. You’ll want to be sure that any users added to such a group have the proper authority to read the correspondence of others before you configure this setting.

The GFI MailArchiver search feature is what you’ll spend the majority of your time interacting with, and it doesn’t disappoint. You can search for messages in the archive by sender, recipient, subject, words within in messages bodies, and more. You can add multiple conditions to any search, in order to narrow the result set to an even greater extent.

Once the query is complete and the results appear, all you need to do is click on a message to view that particular email. If you want to view all of the messages in the same thread (in other words, view the entire message thread, including the original message and responses), just click the red arrow above the message to expand. It really is that simple.

Even if you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for to begin with, all is not lost. Instead of using the search feature, just click on the Welcome tab and select a username from the drop-down list. This will list all archived messages from that user, allowing you to browse through them to find the information or details you’re looking for.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re looking to ensure that your company’s Exchange organization complies with regulatory requirements, or just a way to quickly retrieve email messages from the dark ages, GFI MailArchiver is worth taking for a test drive. You’ll love the fact that it does nothing to impact the smooth operation of your Exchange servers, and requires only one SQL server database located somewhere on the network to accomplish what can otherwise be very time-consuming and frustrating message restoration tasks. If you happen to decide that GFI MailArchiver is not for you, not to worry – just uninstall it and let your Exchange servers carry on as they always have.

If you can come to terms with the fact that searching through email archives really can be as simple as firing up your web browser and performing a search, then GFI MailArchiver probably won’t be leaving your server. The best part is that the next time Steve shows up looking for messages from last year, finding them won’t be an issue. Of course, that’s one piece of information that you’ll probably decide Steve just doesn’t need to know.

Quite simply, if you need an simple, fast, and effective way to manage archived Exchange messages, GFI MailArchiver is the answer.

MSExchange.org Rating 4.5/5


For more information about GFI MailArchiver, click here.

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