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Vault: Gmail’s Spare Tire

posted Dec 29, 2012, 3:10 PM by Eric Curts   [ updated May 22, 2014, 5:23 PM ]
Spare tires are a necessary evil. They are something you pay good money for, in the hopes that you never actually have to use them. You purchase one, hide it away under your car or in your trunk, and as long as everything goes fine you simply forget about it. Of course if (or when) you eventually do hit that nail in the road, in the dark, far from home, you are thrilled that you have an easy to access, easy to use, reliable spare tire.

Well Google Vault is a lot like a spare tire. Vault is an email archiving and E-discovery service from Google (replacing the Postini archiving solution from before). In the past Vault was only for businesses, but recently it has been made available to Apps for Education customers (link) and at a great price.

This is great news for schools, since email archiving is a requirement for us. Emails sent by school employees can be considered “public record” and as such schools can be required to produce copies of them when requested. Since this is not an option, schools need to have an archiving solution that is easy to use and as affordable as possible. Google Vault is a great option.

Pricing

First things first, how much does it cost? Normally Vault is priced by the month at $5 per user per month. However, schools get special educational pricing of $10 per user per year. Additionally the cost is only for school employees, as all of your students are included for free. So for my school district we pay for our 600 staff members, but we get Vault for free for all of our 4,800 students. This is a great price, especially when you look at the features.

Features

Vault has many excellent features including:
  • Email and chat archiving
  • Retention policies for as long as you want
  • Powerful search tools for when you need to retrieve emails and chats
  • Legal holds on accounts as needed to prevent any deletions
  • Export of messages in standard formats
  • Auditing of the use of Vault to see what has been searched, exported, and viewed
Practical experience

We have only had Vault in our school district for a few months, and already we have had the need to put it to use, and just like a good spare tire, I was so glad to have it. From my personal experience with Vault, here are some of the benefits I have seen:
  • Retroactive archiving - It turns out that Google already archives everything in their system whether you use Vault or not. Having the Vault service does not turn on archiving for your school, but rather gives you access to what is already being archived. The amazing benefit of this is that once you activate Vault, you will get access to every Gmail message since you activated your Google Apps for Education domain.

    For us that means that even though we just turned on Vault a few months back, we have access to all our emails since we enabled Google Apps three years ago. Better yet, when we did our switch three years ago to Google Apps, we migrated all of our email from our old Exchange server, and all of those messages were also available in Vault.

    Other archiving services just start saving your email from the time you begin their service. If they do have an option to import old email, that is an extra service and extra charge. With Vault all historic emails are there immediately.
  • Speed - Thanks to Google’s expertise with search, Vault is very fast at retrieving needed messages. We have done queries with several search terms, spanning multiple years, and covering thousands of users, and have gotten search results in a matter of seconds, as well as full exports in only a few minutes. To keep using the analogy of a spare tire, searching with Vault is like having a NASCAR pit crew with those fancy air guns changing your tires.
  • Definable roles - Also with Vault it is easy to set up and manage user access to the tools. This makes it easy to give people just the amount of access that is appropriate for the situation. From the Apps Control Panel, under “Domain Settings”, you can create different roles with different access levels for Vault. You can then go to “Organization & users” and assign those roles to specific people.
The future

Vault is a great solution for a school’s need to archive email for public records requests. However, I am excited about additional features to come. Just like Gmail, Google already archives all of our other Google Apps data. I imagine that support for Docs, Drive, Calendar and more will be added over time in addition to the numerous feature improvements we've come to expect with the core Google Apps suite.

As more and more data gets stored in the cloud through Google Drive and other Google services, Vault really has the potential to become much more than a “spare tire” for email. Vault can be a one-stop shop, letting users know that all their cloud data is backed up, safe, and accessible. And as with all Google Apps products, Vault will continue to improve over time at no additional cost to the customer.

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