Due to all the recent buzz surrounding the need to control PST files, centralize them and potentially import them into a more accessible and controlled repository, this article covers the options end-users have when importing desktop PST files.

Some of the recent news in this area has obviously been generated by the introduction of archiving in Exchange 2010 and improvements to it in the subsequent release of Service Pack 1 (check out Sherpa’s webinar on Exchange 2010 for more details). With Exchange 2010’s online archives, for the first time, organizations now have a legitimate and native alternative to permitting PST files. Users no longer need to create PST files to have a bottomless mailbox and all the data can be stored and managed centrally, eliminating all the headaches associated with potentially discoverable data that has been decentralized and spread throughout an organization.

The suggestions in this article, however, not only apply to companies migrating to Exchange 2010, this information is for any organization with an intent to centralize PST data and search for ways to identify them on user desktops and to migrate those PSTs to a network location, from where appropriate action (such as importing them into Exchange’s archive or having them ingested by a 3rd party archiving solution) can be taken.

Option 1 – Have Users Manually Move Them
This is obviously the simplest, but also the most unreliable of options. This provides users with a network share to which they can manually copy all of the PST files from their desktop.

Pros: This process requires no software or any additional deployments to the desktops.
Cons:  It is a manual process, requires the users to know the locations of all their PST files, relies on users and is disruptive since PSTs cannot be in use while being copied.

Option 2 – Use Personal Folders Backup
Personal Folders Backup is an Outlook add-in, available from Microsoft, used to backup users’ desktop-based PST files to a designated network share. The utility can be manually invoked or automated to prompt the user when Outlook is shut down, to copy the entire PST file to the network location. This add-in can be downloaded here.

Pros: The add-in is free and requires no central management.
Cons: Users need to deploy plug-ins to desktops, it relies on users having their desktop PST files attached to their profile in Outlook, it’s disruptive since the PST files are inaccessible during the copy and there is no support yet for Outlook 2010.

Option 3 – 3rd Party Solutions
There are a few 3rd party solutions available to migrate PST files from user desktops to the network. Some that operate remotely and access desktops through admin shares and others that deploy agents to desktops. Sherpa Software offers one such product – Mail Attender. Mail Attender is a content management solution and is extremely effective at reporting on and enforcing policies in Exchange mailboxes, public folders and PST files. In the area of PST management, Mail Attender offers a number of capabilities, from searching and identifying PST files to scanning them, determining ownership and managing their content. Additionally, Mail Attender provides options to move/copy/delete the contents of those PST files identified.

To address the specific need discussed in this article, Mail Attender offers a central management console used to configure the product and manage its processing. There is also a Mail Attender agent that must be deployed to all PST bearing desktops. Rules to move or copy PST data, configured on the console, are transmitted to the desktops and executed. Since the agent can be configured to run under the logged in user’s authority, the PST files can be accessed even if they are in use. Furthermore, because the agent is designed to run as a background application, there is no perceptible disruption to the user.

In addition to the option to move PST file content from desktops to the network, Mail Attender can also move this data back into the PST owner’s Exchange mailbox or Exchange 2010 archive. Mail Attender’s powerful rule structure allows for moving targeted content, rather than entire PST files.

Pros: Products such as Mail Attender allow central management, are administrative driven, monitor imports, include auto-detection of PST files, add no disruption to the users, include several destination choices and have an option to do selective importing and audit logging.
Cons: This requires installation of management console and deployment of desktop agents.

If you have questions about any of the options discussed in this article or would like to speak to a Sherpa Software representative about your particular PST importing needs, please feel free to contact us or comment on this post.