Email journaling for Office 365

Do you still need journaling?

Guest article by Geoff Bourgeois, CEO of HubStor

In the early days of corporate email communications, messaging was not viewed as a formal business record despite emails being more verbose compared to the average email in 2020.

Policies about the use and retention of messages generally did not exist because of the relaxed view of email in the workplace. If there was a corporate policy about email, it was usually to impose small quotas on mailboxes, erroneously believing that this would control storage growth and would mean that messages were deleted after a certain period.

All of this changed when email messages played significant roles in high-profile litigations, with the smoking gun being an email that was thought to have been deleted.

The corporate world soon realised that what they did not know could hurt them, and governments moved to pass legislation imposing regulatory compliance requirements for specific industries to keep records.

Journaling provides a “golden copy”

There are two reasons that you need journaling:

  1. Your organisation falls under legislation or one of the regulatory regimes that mandate it, and/or
  2. Your legal department says so.

It is common for legal teams to require email journaling because it offers them the option of conducting early data assessments in the event of claims. Legal teams can make an informed decision about whether to fight or settle the matter when they have a reliable, golden copy to explore early in the process.

Many legal teams find the cost of journaling and early data assessment to be far less than deciding to fight and later losing based on surprise email evidence.

Does Microsoft 365 solve my journaling needs?

Does Exchange Online in Microsoft 365 support journaling? The short answer: Partially.

You can indeed enable journaling in Microsoft 365 to capture that “golden copy” of particular users’ mail flow from Exchange Online mailboxes. However, the catch is that you cannot use Exchange Online mailboxes as the target for your journaling.

As found in Microsoft’s documentation:

You can’t designate an Exchange Online mailbox as a journaling mailbox. You can deliver journal reports to an on-premises archiving system or a third-party archiving service. If you’re running an Exchange hybrid deployment with your mailboxes split between on-premises servers and Exchange Online, you can designate an on-premises mailbox as the journaling mailbox for your Exchange Online and on-premises mailboxes.”

Microsoft 365 journaling hacks

As for your legacy journal archives, residing in a third-party archive solution or on-premises Exchange Server, some organisations opt for migration of their journal archives into Exchange Online. The approach involves the use of migration software, such as TransVault, to “explode” the journal out to a mailbox per user in Exchange Online. On the surface, the approach seems to be ideal because you have Content Search, Core eDiscovery, and Advanced eDiscovery features in Microsoft 365.

There are some workarounds available for organisations that need to continue journaling their mail and want to achieve this in-place with Microsoft 365. However, these options are a hack as far as journaling goes because the mail flow is not technically journaled as an air-gapped golden copy. One option is the use of Preservation Locks for organisations that want to centralise on in-place Microsoft 365 for compliance and eDiscovery for SEC/FINRA/CFTC-compliant immutable WORM storage. The approach requires you to apply a retention period to your data, which may not be ideal for organisations whose journaling activity is motivated by a litigation strategy only. For legally-motived journaling requirements, Litigation Hold might suffice as a journaling replacement.

Cloud-based journaling alongside software-defined storage and cloud backup

Organisations may find that Microsoft 365 is not an ideal home for legacy and go-forward journaling because in-place features and hacks can impose downstream search and discovery complications. You should test any in-place strategy to ensure it aligns with your legal and compliance requirements and that the hold and collection workflows deliver the results you expect.

Cloud-based journaling, such as provided by HubStor, can work alongside Microsoft 365 to solve both the retention of legacy journal archives and the go-forward journaling for an air-gapped golden copy. TransVault has a direct integration with HubStor to intelligently migrate your legacy journal. And HubStor provides fully-managed, Azure-based SMTP journaling to reliably accept your journal feed from Microsoft 365 into an archive with discovery features for cases, searches, holds, and exports. While the use of a third-party archive will mean two places to search, there are numerous advantages, such as:

  1. Proper journal report handling for BCC search – The in-place methods of Microsoft 365 means that BCC’s only exist in the sender’s mailbox, which could be easily excluded from an eDiscovery search. However, if you create a journal rule in Microsoft 365, then the SMTP journaling feature will deliver a proper journal report, which exposes the full recipients list. HubStor will index this so that you can search sender and recipients, including BCC recipients, and even filter on whether or not messages have BCCs.
  2. Data sovereignty controls – Legal and compliance requirements can come with data sovereignty needs. HubStor’s single-tenant SaaS model gives you the convenient of a software service with the enterprise-grade flexibility and security to have a dedicated configuration that runs in an Azure region of your choice. HubStor can guarantee all aspects of its journaling solution to respect data sovereignty requirements, including the receipt, delivery, capture, ingestion, storage, and indexing of the data.
  3. Data management platform for your other backup and archive needs – The best way to make use of HubStor is to take advantage of the economies of scale provided by the platform and its subscription model. If you use HubStor for journaling and eDiscovery for messages only, it is generally price competitive above 750 users, and it is more price competitive the larger your organisation. However, even for smaller organisations, the platform includes features like software-defined storage to help you protect and manage file systems cloud tiering and NAS backup. HubStor’s recently launched Backup-as-a-Service (BaaS) for virtual machine environments such as VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Systems Centre, which can simplify your data protection architecture and provide reliable cloud-based recovery and disaster preparedness at significantly less cost than incumbent backup products. Finally, you can satisfy requirements to protect your data in SaaS apps (Microsoft 365, Box, and Slack) and PaaS storage (AWS S3, Azure Blob, and Azure Files). Because of HubStor’s usage-based pricing model, adding any of these additional workloads to your single-tenant instance is only an incremental uptick in cost, giving you a unified SaaS solution for all things backup and archive while enabling you to reduce costs by eliminating legacy products and multiple vendors.

 

Much like insurance – you never know when your organisation will need to pull data from old emails.  If you don’t have a journaling system in place you run the risk of lacking the information needed which can ultimately cost much more than implementing a proper journaling solution in the first place. That’s why preparing in advance is key to preventing unnecessary problems in the future.

If you haven’t started looking into email journaling, now is as good a time as any to start.

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