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Why Google Vault is the essential backup tool for every Google district

By John Sowash
March 23rd, 2016

google-vault

Google Vault can help GAFE districts search and retain important data — even if it’s been deleted

Ever get nostalgic for the simpler days, where the most subversive ways students could communicate was via bathroom graffiti and passing notes in class? These days, those almost quaint forms of communication have given way to dozens of forms of electronic message passing that can be used for good — and bad.

The real question is whether your district has a good grasp on the communications flowing through your network. As schools have migrated their systems and services to the web, maintaining good oversight and archiving control over district communication has become more challenging and much more important.

Does your district have a plan in place for dealing with a worst case scenario, such as a lawsuit or questions from police or the media? How do you investigate issues of cyber bullying, sexting, staff impropriety, and fulfill freedom of information (FOIA) requests? While no one wants to think about these things, not having a plan can be costly.

More than 50 million teachers and students are using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) across the globe. As GAFE has gained in popularity, Google has sought to enhance their platform with additional tools and services outside of web-based wonders such as Gmail, Drive, and Google Calendar. One of the most undervalued tools in this arsenal is Google Vault.

Google Vault (formerly Postini) is an archiving and e-discovery system that integrates with Gmail, Hangouts, and Google Drive, allowing a district to retain, archive, search, and export critical data. Such capabilities are essential if districts are to be incompliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Google Apps for Education districts receive access to Google Vault for free.

Google Vault can be quickly configured by a Google Domain Admin (there’s a configuration guide online). The most challenging aspect of the configuration is verifying your district’s data retention policy. This policy varies by state, ranging from a set period of time (typically 3-5 years) or policy delegation to the local board. For help in determining your states policy, refer to the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Google Apps Vault is integrated with Email (Gmail), Hangouts, and Google Drive.

Retain Hold Search & export
Email Yes Yes Yes
Hangouts & Google Talk Yes Yes Yes
Google Drive No No Yes

A complete explanation of supported features is available on the Apps Vault support page. Once configured, Google Vault can serve a variety of purposes:

Freedom of Information Requests

Google Vault can be used to fulfill FOIA requests, allowing the searching of archived data for the entire district or individual user(s). Data is securely stored and can not be removed by a user. Discovery is completed through the use of a simple search interface, similar to a Google search, making it possible to search for information based on user, keyword, or date. Information can be saved for internal review or exported to be handed over to an external party.

Internal investigation

Google Vault provides transparent access into the account of any user within the Google Apps organization. In the event that a user attempts to destroy incriminating evidence prior to the start of an investigation, Google Vault will still retain copies of all emails and chat conversations even if they have been purged from the user account. Additionally, Google Drive data can be searched and reviewed. One caveat: Drive data is not archived and only files remaining in the user’s account will be available for review.

Data recovery

Google Vault can also be used to recover lost email data. In the event that a user experiences a complete loss of email, content can be exported and re-populated into the user’s email account.

Google Vault makes monitoring district communication much easier than figuring out who wrote on the bathroom walls. Whether Vault is your primary or secondary backup solution, it is an essential tool for helping district administrators keep staff and students safe and secure and to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.

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About the Author:

John Sowash is a Google Certified Trainer and administrator who helps schools use technology in meaningful ways. You can connect with John via his blog (electriceducator.com) or Twitter (@jrsowash).