The issue of email archiving once again hit the headlines with the recent announcement that the Competition Commission (CC) has demanded that Tesco and Asda hand over millions of emails and letters in response to claims that the grocery giants put intense pressure on suppliers to cut prices.

Both supermarkets have denied any wrong doing and are, of course, going to comply, but the scale of the task facing the CC cannot be underestimated. ASDA has confirmed that the number of emails passed between the supermarket group and their suppliers during the time frame - a five week period in June and July - could be as many as 11 million.

This latest announcement has thrust the achieving policies of UK businesses into the spotlight again as the law does not require firms to store emails or paper documents, except in relation to specific taxation or corporate issues. The result is that, in most cases, it is up to the firms to make their own policies regarding storage and retrieval of electronic communications.

Email has become the mainstay of the business world as both a communication tool but also as a means of delivering a high proportion of business correspondence. In fact each of us is now receiving an average of 18Mb of data per day – and that’s due to increase to 28Mb of data per day by 2011. Add to this a fact recently reported by industry analysts the Radicati Group; that just 14% of business emails are being archived and the scale of the issue of storage and retrieval becomes evident.

Facts such as these and the situation that Asda and Tesco find themselves in, demonstrate the critical requirement for enterprises to employ a centralised email data management tool. Without such a solution, companies run the risk of losing control over their important business records and unable to retrieve valuable information.

The responsibility of maintaining the availability of email data for multi-year periods is new for most IT manager who are finding that creating a secure central repository of all email data can be both expensive and technically challenging. The larger the organisation, more mail servers are required and don’t forget the deployment of expensive redundant hardware, software and complex integration on local networks that are needed before a benefit can be realised.

In-house email archiving projects tend to consume a disproportionate percentage of budgets relative to other IT initiatives. This results from their complexity, the requirements for offsite back-up and the growing and unpredictable data volumes involved.

Attempting to meet these requirements with in-house systems requires significant capital and operating expenses from a business and often results in a suboptimal solution. Additional costs are to be borne year over year as the business extends and patches what soon becomes a legacy data repository.

Effective email data management is vital to every business, and IT departments need a practical strategy that is low risk, future proof, immediately affordable, easy to implement and manage, and critically, has a predictable cost profile over the many years of email data management that lie ahead.

With the advent of Software as a Service (SaaS), email management solutions are now available as sophisticated, multi tenant, online email storage solutions with search performance, data security, availability and resilience.

The SaaS business model is based on a ‘pay as you go’ model rather than the traditional purchasing of infrastructure. With this technology businesses can benefit from the safe delivery, storage, and management of hundreds of millions of messages for thousands of businesses worldwide every day regardless of their size. Where in the past storage of up to ten years worth of email would be reserved for large companies that could afford this expenditure SaaS has enabled SMEs to also be able to have access to this type of application.

In the case of Tesco and Asda the two key functions an IT manager would hope for would be search and storage. If Asda sent 11 million emails over a five week period how much storage space would they require over a ten year period and how easy would it be to search the data?

SaaS offers an organisation the opportunity to store information in a robust and scalable format, retaining terabytes of data without any performance degradation. This means that as your storage volumes grow you do not need to buy more server space as you can leverage the additional physical stores that a SaaS email Management service can provide.

Staff and management can also access all business critical email information in real time. This type of functionality is very powerful as it provides an automated, real time view on valuable company email communications channels. For example this would have been invaluable to either of the supermarket chains as it would allow them to view all emails exchanged between the company and a supplier.

Any email route can be analysed to identify trends, patterns, abuse and so on. At a glance, the system can illustrate communications with key customers, who the communicating parties are and the frequency of communication over time.

So before you are forced by business rules or regulation to provide copies of your email communications you need to ensure you have an email management policy in place which is both affordable and flexible enough to meet any future business demands

Peter Bauer is CEO of Mimecast