MessageLabs has launched its first email archival product, which company officials say will allow for fast access to messages that must be stored for regulatory and legal reasons.

MessageLabs Archiving Service encrypts the email it stores, retrieves and sends over a network, said David Hahn, senior product manager. Email can be searched using a web-based interface or Microsoft's Outlook program, he said.

Messages can be searched in several ways, including by content, attachments and date ranges. The archiving service is compatible with Microsoft's Active Directory service, which allows for managing identities and customising different levels of access for users across a network, Hahn said.

The need for the service comes as companies demand more central control over their email, Hahn explained. "We clearly see this as part of a much broader business messaging strategy, given the amount of intellectual property stored in archival email systems," he said.

Governments are setting tighter rules regarding the access and storage of electronic data, including email. Hahn said companies can implement their own policies for email storage using the Archiving Service.

For example, an organisation may choose to store all corporate correspondence for three years while only keeping product management email messages for one year.

The move to offer an archived email service was a natural progression for MessageLabs, which specialises in antivirus and antispam services, said Brian Czarny, vice-president for product management at the firm. In November 2005, MessageLabs bought Omnipod, a company specialising in hosted secure IM services, bolstering its suite of managed email and web services.

A handful of organisations in the UK and the US have been using a beta version of the product, Czarny said. The service will cost between £6 and £12 per user per month, Hahn said. An email storage quota is set depending on the pricing plan.