Written by: Srinivasan Balaji

One of the most discussed topics for Exchange administrators in the past few years has been PST files.  The trend continues as they were the overwhelming topic of conversation in the vendor areas of Microsof Exchange Connections (MEC) this year. And although there are organizations with legacy and environmental considerations that require the continued use and management of PST files, the vast majority of companies appear to be seeking efficient ways to migrate the trove of data PSTs contain and eliminate their use. Microsoft’s architectural enhancements and addition of features, such as online archives, now provide organizations a more central and manageable alternative to PST files, and an incentive to migrate. This article will discuss some of the challenges with PST files and how Sherpa Software can help with the limitations offered by Microsoft.

For those who are new to the topic of PST files, here’s a little background. They are a client-based storage structure that allows users, using an Outlook client, to locally store a downloaded copy of email from their Exchange Server mailbox. The ability to do this is typically enabled by default and often occurs without the explicit knowledge of or active intervention by the user. And because the PST file structure was designed for a different age of computing and data storage, it is notoriously unstable in today’s environment. Since they are generally stored locally on users’ computers – Microsoft has traditionally considered PST files on network shares an unsupported configuration – they are rarely backed up. Calls to Sherpa from administrators with unhappy users who lost valuable datat through corrupt PST files are too numerous to count.

Most organizations today live in a compliance and regulatory vigilant environment. The threat of litigation, which comes with a significant set of requirements on electronically stored information (ESI), is high. So it has never been more important for a company to have a good, if not precise, inventory of all of their electronic data. PST files, by their very nature, de-centralized and literally invisible, can be a gaping hole in an organization’s data management strategy.

For over twelve years, Sherpa Software’s Mail Attender has been helping Exchange administrators automate the management of their email environment. Initially developed as an email policy and retention enforcement product, Mail Attender has been enhanced over the years to meet the needs of the changing email management landscape. Its robust architecture and wide reach allows administrators today to scan, report on, manage and migrate data stored in Exchange mailboxes (including support for several legacy versions of Exchange), online archives, public folders and PST files. Retention policies can be enforced easily and uniformly in all of those data silos, including difficult to locate and even harder to manage desktop PST files.

With the introduction of online archives, available now as a separate data store natively in Exchange 2010, as a viable alternative to the use of PST files, organizations interested in eliminating the use of PST files will have to address the volumes of legacy data they house. Most organizations choose to migrate this data into the online archives, centralizing the data and benefiting from the available unified management options. As anyone who has undertaken this task can attest, migrating this mass of data is daunting.

Mail Attender includes a comprehensive PST migration capability and has been battle tested in a number of complex migration scenarios. Built on its core capabilities of PST processing, the data migration capabilities offer a unique blend of features that ensures that the necessary data, and only the necessary data, is moved into the appropriate destination store in a verifiable and efficient manner. To meet these needs, Mail Attender includes the following noteworthy features:

  • Using a proprietary algorithm, the content within the PST files is automatically scanned to determine the owner based on address details of the messages. If an owner is indeterminable, a list of the top five likely choices is recorded to assist the administrator in manually assigning one.
  • Messages are individually moved from the PST files through a network-based staging area, rather than attempting to move the entire PST file. Also, the original message in the PST is not purged until it has been successfully saved to the destination store. This ensures that the process is transactional and can be resumed, rather than restarted, in the event of failures.
  • The data from the PST file is deduplicated prior to migration.
  • Age, size and numerous other criteria may be applied to the migration process to ensure that only the relevant data is moved from the PST files.

These, coupled with the myriad of other PST capabilities, make Mail Attender a product that can significantly reduce the burden on Exchange administrators who are undertaking the task of migrating legacy PST data.

One of the questions frequently asked is how Mail Attender stacks up against Microsoft’s PST migration offering – PST Capture. Here is a quick comparison of the two:


For more information on Mail Attender or any of our other information management products or to see a demo, please visit www.sherpasoftware.com.