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When IT teams need to satisfy both message journaling and backup of Office 365 mailboxes, we often hear the question, “do I need one or the other, or both… what’s the difference between journaling and mailbox backup?”

In short, journaling and backup have key differences. The one you employ – or both – comes down to your requirements.

Office 365 backup vs. message journaling

The chart below offers an overview of the differences between Office 365 backup and email journaling.

office 365 mailbox backup or email journaling

What is journaling?

Journaling is like an audit trail of email traffic, capturing a separate record of messages.

Organizations use journaling because they must, either due to legal or regulatory requirements that mandate their email records to be preserved for a period and be producible in a discovery scenario. Thus, in addition to high availability and immutable storage, the critical requirements around journaling are the ability to perform reliable searches and to manage legal holds and exports.

How does journaling work?

Rules that execute on the email servers determine which messages will have a shadow copy routed to the journal recipient address. Both the sender and recipient(s) of messages will have no indication of journaling running or not.

Since journaling routes a shadow copy of messages from any number of mailboxes to one (or a handful) of journal recipients, you can think of journaled mail from an organization as simply going to a giant, collective recordkeeping bucket.

What is Office 365 mailbox backup?

Backup of Office 365 creates a separate copy of the data for the purposes of restoring it should the primary copy be accidentally or maliciously deleted.

There is a philosophical debate in the IT industry as to whether the data in SaaS apps needs a true backup. Those against SaaS data backup argue that the data is replicated for high availability and recycle bin features offer a solution for recovering deleted items.

Those in favor of backing up SaaS data argue that replication for availability does not meet backup needs since any bad deletions of data will synchronize. Furthermore, they argue that the built-in recycle bin features are inflexible and not reliable for an array of recovery scenarios (which has been our experience).

How does Office 365 backup work for mailboxes?

Office 365 backup solutions use Microsoft-approved APIs to scan targets within Office 365. In the case of email, the targets are user mailboxes and shared mailboxes.

Since mailbox scanning looks at the contents of a mailbox, it is able to capture the unique folder structures, along with user-specific metadata such as the read/unread status of each item.

Mailbox scanning results in capture of non-message items such as Calendars, Contacts, and Tasks.

How Office 365 mailbox backup is different than journaling

Backing up mailboxes is entirely different because the content is scanned from the mailbox after message delivery, whereas journaling is a copy spun off during the message transfer process.

Thus, in a mailbox backup scenario, a user can interact with items, potentially deleting them before capture. And they can organize their email into folders, set follow-up flags, and assign categories, all of which create a user-specific context (metadata) around the messages.

Unlike journaling, mailbox backup captures the unique folder structures of each mailbox, in addition to other user-specific metadata. Mailbox backup also captures items that reside in the inbox that do not pass through the message transfer agent, thus would never show up in a journal feed, such as Calendars and Contacts.

On the other hand, journaling ensures delivery of messages without any possibility that a user could tamper with the data before capture. And journal reports offer an envelope that exposes any BCCs which would not be visible through mailbox capture.

Using the right approach

Mailbox backup is insufficient as a journaling solution because incremental scanning means there is potential for a user to tamper with (or delete) messages prior to their capture. Furthermore, having the BCC metadata available for searching in discovery is important, and only journaling delivers this visibility.

Likewise, journaling is insufficient as a backup because most recovery scenarios require folder-level operations, or to merge items into their appropriate folders in a restore job. Because journaling has no mailbox folder context, it cannot support most recovery scenarios you will encounter.

Two birds, one stone?

Yes, if you want both, HubStor can deliver it while mostly leveraging a common compute and storage infrastructure. In other words, if you use HubStor for journaling, adding mailbox backup is a small incremental cost. And if you use HubStor for mailbox backup, adding journaling is also a small incremental uplift in cost.

Let us know if you’d like to explore pricing or see a demo.

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