Google this week unveiled Google Message Discovery, a new hosted service for searching, protecting and archiving email for corporate users.

Bill Kee, a Google product marketing manager, introduced the service earlier this week in a company blog post. In the post, Kee said that the new service includes email filtering and security controls to block spam and viruses before they infiltrate inboxes.

The Google Message Discovery service is currently available and starts at $25 per user per year. The service is part of the company's GoogleApps Premier Edition-hosted application suite and supports both the Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino messaging systems.

Kee said that the new service will enable businesses to rely on automated tools to manage and retrieve growing amounts of email rather than having to use physical tape backup systems to find and catalogue information. "It's nearly impossible to find specific emails quickly when searching through a pile of backup tapes," he said.

Email archiving is becoming a critical ally by helping companies rapidly recover missing email, comply with government regulations and deal with data discovery requests associated with litigation. Despite such needs, though, some analysts have criticised organisations for a widespread lack of urgency in their efforts to better archive email and handle discovery requests.

Google's archiving service will capture and store all sent and received email messages. Kee said the service creates policies that can be wrapped around message retention time and provides authentication controls allowing administrators to easily search through email.

Noting that email management and archiving are often viewed as a "thankless job," Rebecca Wettemann, vice-president for Nucleus Research, said that Google Message Discovery is a way to offload that responsibility.

"Google's trying to raise the visibility of effective archiving but, even more importantly, the benefits of having it as an on-demand service instead of [having to] manage it manually," said Wettemann.

To date, analysts have said that Google's nascent GoogleApps suite of software-as-a-service tools lacks the ability to support large numbers of corporate users.

Wettemann said that Google Message Discovery could be an important step in Google's effort to appeal to corporate IT managers. "This is potentially Google's Trojan horse into the enterprise - if it can convince IT managers that it makes more sense to use an archival service from Google rather than manage backup and discovery themselves," she added.