What is a PST File?: Purpose, Benefits, & Problems

In the past, we’ve been thorough in discussing various tips and tricks for managing and migrating your PST files. Today, we’ll discuss the original purpose of the PST file, along with some of the benefits and problems that arise when utilizing them.

Purpose

So, what is a PST file? Outlook personal folder files, or PST files (as they’re commonly known), have been around since the mid-1990s. These files were originally shipped with the Exchange email client (now called Microsoft Outlook) and were used to access Exchange server mailboxes. The purpose of the PST file was, like it is today, to provide end users with a way to create local archives of their server-based email.

The word archive today immediately brings to mind terms such as regulation, compliance and electronic discovery (e-discovery). The original purpose of PST files was something far different. Email storage available to users on the servers is at a premium. Email administrators have historically restricted the amount of storage available to users on the server for reasons including improved performance, reduced backup times and overall smooth operations. The storage restrictions were generally implemented using Microsoft Exchange mailbox quotas. As a result, PST files provided end users with a means of expanding their email storage by creating and maintaining one or more local archives.

Benefits

Reducing data on the email servers was typically the purview of the email administrators whose ultimate objective was to accomplish the task without having to frequently deal with end users who had reached their mailbox quota and required personal handling. The benefits don’t reside solely on the administrative side of email management, though.

For end users, PST files served multiple benefits. In addition to expanding the amount of email data they can store, local PST files also give them offline access to that data. Moreover, PST files are automatically created, requiring limited, if any assistance from corporate IT.

Problems

The challenges of PST file management have been well documented. Since they were designed for another day and age and designed to accommodate very different computing hardware, PST files have been notoriously unstable. Although local access to valuable email data is a wonderful idea, corrupt PST files and inaccessible emails can be a major headache for IT departments. Additionally, since PST files are stored on users’ local computers, they are rarely backed up. So if the PST data was ever lost from the desktop, as a result of a hard drive crashing (for example), they were generally unrecoverable.

Fortunately, as technology has evolved, so have the tactics with which we deal with PST files. Whether it’s PST file repair, storage, migration, or recovery, there are feasible solutions for the problems that were once nothing short of a nightmare to remedy.

Having trouble migrating your personal folder files? Take a look at our video tutorial on migrating PST files with Mail Attender for Exchange!

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