.pst Files - Friend or Foe?

The answer to that question is pretty clear – once a friend, but now very much a foe.

In times gone by, and we are talking over twenty years ago now, .pst files were a useful solution to the problem of limited server mailbox capacity. In those days, storing a .pst file on a local pc and including it in a back-up regime was the way forward. In those days, .pst files were a friend indeed.

However since those times, three main elements have changed the .pst file from a friend to become a definite foe:

In the first instance, the speed of change in the computing environment has been exponential providing a great many more options with regard to data management and storage. The advent of cloud storage and the rapid development and propagation of O365 for example, mean the .pst file is a very outdated and more often than not, incompatible form of email storage.

Secondly, the advent of tighter and more focussed data management legislation such as GDPR in Europe and similar in other key markets, has given the individual more rights on what data is stored about them and how it is used. In particular, the right of an individual to request information from a company on what data is held that specifically identifies them aka a Subject Access Request, obligates companies to have the means to search data efficiently and cost effectively. As each pst file has to be mounted individually before it can be searched, this definitely counts it out as a suitable storage medium in today’s GDPR world.

Thirdly, the Covid pandemic has led to a major shift in working practices that are unlikely to change significantly in the future. Working from home as a practice is here to stay and puts the spotlight on both VPN capacity and the fact that .pst files were never designed to be stored and accessed on network shares. To do so significantly increases the risk of data corruption and loss of the file completely. Given that .pst files are often a critical part of the business process, this makes them completely unacceptable as a data storage solution. Nevertheless, the emails within them need to be protected from corruption and/or complete data loss.

    .pst file failings

    • Pst files have significant short comings when stored in OneDrive or other cloud storage solutions, effectively making them incompatible. They are individual files and not suitable for concurrent access as the relatively new practice of collaborative working demands.
    • In themselves, .pst files are notoriously unstable and prone to corruption, increasingly so as the file size grows.
    • The risk of corruption and data loss increases substantially when accessed over a network such as a VPN used by someone working from home.
    • Microsoft do not support .pst files when accessed via network shares including OneDrive
    • Pst files are insecure. Any password protection applied is easily by-passed and as the data itself is not encrypted, a misplaced or lost .pst file represents a huge data breach vulnerability, and a huge compliance risk
    • As each .pst file has to be mounted individually before the data can be accessed and searched, keeping .pst files severely compromises an organisation’s ability to search for information efficiently and cost effectively, as well as its ability to apply compliance policies.
    • There is absolutely nothing to recommend their continued us in today’s data management infrastructure.

     The solution

    • The current focus for many organisations is to review their on-premise archiving solutions which themselves are often outdated and incompatible with the ubiquitous O365 platform as well as other cloud storage solutions. The intention is to modernise their data management infrastructure, centralising all their data, moving much of it, if not all of it into the cloud environment. A key benefit of such a restructure is that it becomes unnecessary to store data locally thereby negating the need for local backups, which collectively removes significant costs from the equation.

      The difficulty these organisations face as part of this process is to winkle out all the .pst files on end-point pcs and laptops, on servers and back-up media across their networks, which include local, regional and global networks. The numbers of .pst files involved can add up to thousands – they are a real nightmare for the project manager.

      For those hard-pressed project managers help is at hand in the form of the Ultimate Migrator software. One of its unique features is to be able to discover all the .pst files in the organisations network including home workers, end point pcs, laptops, servers and back-up media whether local, regional or global.

      In the migration process, the software will extract all the data from each pst file, password protected or not, assign ownership to the emails, de-duplicate and migrate into the cloud platform of choice, including O365, Mimecast, Global Relay, Cryoserver and many more.

      If you are tasked with restructuring your data management solution that involves migrating your email data from a legacy on-premise archive into the cloud, or even moving from one cloud archive storage solution to another, then call us or email us for a chat – we would love to discuss your project and how we might help.