There are times when a business is required to preserve electronic communication as the result of some type of litigation, whether the business itself is involved in that litigation or if one of their customers are involved. In these cases, system administrators have a number of things they can do, and a number of measures they can put in place, that simplify the ability to preserve that communication for later retrieval.
In addition, many of these measures are just good business practice in general. While they do help with any type of legal matters, they also assist with the integrity of the mail server, its data and settings, and the overall health of the business. Therefore, several of these could, and should, be put in place well before any type of legal need.
Simply put, backups of a mail server should be performed as a standard business practice. Even if you simply back up domain and user settings, and config files, and don't back up actual mail data, regularly backing up your mail server helps prevent the loss of important data in the event of issues like hardware failures, disk space issues, hard drive corruption, system failures and more.
That said, creating full backups of all domains, users and the associated mail data SHOULD be done to ensure that zero email is lost due to a catastrophic incident. In addition, having complete backups can help with any legalities and the necessity to have access to accounts and data based on the requirements presented to you throughout that process. Having access to complete back ups means that it's possible to restore any domains and/or users, as well as all the email, contact, calendar, attachment and file storage data for those domains and/or users. For legal matters, this ability is crucial.
Archiving is another feature that should be enabled by default for customers running the Enterprise version of SmarterMail. Archiving is flexible enough that it can be enabled for all domains on the server, or individual rules can be created for specific domains. By creating individual rules for specific domains it also means that any domain administrator for those domains can be given access to restore data from the archive for their users. This can offload some work for system administrators and hand it off to those domain administrators should a legal issue arise.
Archiving works at the very beginning of the email delivery process, prior to any anti spam, antivirus, content filtering or end user actions, so all messages -- emails as well as live chats -- are archived before they're moved or deleted. Archived data can be restored to a specific folder within a user, or even restored to a new user that's created specifically to recover information.
Logging, and having access to the mail server log files, is an often overlooked resource should legal matters arise. When proper logging is enabled, such as storing details delivery and SMTP logs, these can be used to research when a particular message was sent or received. The results of these searches can be used in conjunction with restored archive data or as simple answers to specific questions about a user or a message.
A TOTAL SOLUTION
Using any one of these solutions can certainly help during litigation, and they all give hosting companies, ISPs and businesses the resources they need to accommodate any legal inquiry. However, the ideal solution is to use all of them together. Backups can be taken on a daily basis and stored offsite; archived data can also be stored on a secondary location like a NAS or even removable storage; logs can be stored on their own drive to ensure that there is adequate disk space. The power of these solutions is really in their versatility. We've built SmarterMail in such a way as to provide customers with power, utility and flexibility. Therefore, should the need arise due to any type of litigation, there are definitely solutions available to meet that need.