Just about EVERYONE I speak with at work complains about the size of their corporate email account. Normally it’s not a problem (but people still complain) because when a mailbox approaches its limit, most email servers (like Microsoft Exchange) will warn the user so they can clean up the mailbox before the server enforces their size limits by restricting send/receive from the server.
Now, this is all Fine and Dandy UNTIL…you go on vacation for a few days, those email size warnings come and go, and then KABOOM!!! Your mailbox is FULL, and you can no longer send/receive the email from your mobile or even OWA (Outlook Web Access) for that matter. I’ve received the call a million times. My iPhone can’t send emails, help!
- So, what to do?
- Is there a solution to these insufficiently sized mailboxes?
- What should I do before I go on vacation?
Now I introduce you to the infamous (according to IT) Outlook PST file.
What are Outlook .PST files?
- Outlook Data Files or Microsoft Outlook .PST files (as they are more well known) can be created using Microsoft Outlook to move or copy Emails and Attachments from your Server Mailbox account to your local PC. Essentially, it’s a local Archive or Storage file you create to store Email and Attachments on your computer’s Hard Drive, USB Drive, or Server Share (depending on where you create and store it).
How much can you store in Outlook .PST files?
- Before Outlook 2003/2007, .PST files could only store 2 Gigabytes of Email and Attachments. With Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007, the format changed allowing the .PST files to grow as needed to over 20 Gigabytes in size unless the default configuration is modified.
- Honestly, don’t let them get 20 Gigs. It’s a much better idea to keep your .PST files no larger than a few gigs. If you need more storage space, then create a new .PST file instead of creating huge .PST archives. The larger the .PST files get the greater chance of corruption and data loss (plus the harder it will be to back up the bad boys.) You can attach as many .PST files to your Outlook Client as you need so just separate your email logically across multiple .PST files if you need to store more than a few GIGs of old email.
- TIP – If you’re using .PST files to archive old emails, compress them after you copy all the old data into them. Email is usually just text, so it compresses VERY nicely.
How can I create Outlook .PST files?
Why use/create .PST files? Benefits?
- Remember the first paragraph of this Article? Most email administrators limit the size of Corporate mailboxes. The bigger the Mailbox, the more disk space they need, the more they need to backup AND the more TIME they need to perform those backups.
- If you’re an email packrat (like me), a 200 Megabyte mailbox just won’t cut it. That’s where .PST files come in. Just create a .PST file and drag and drop your email into it. They work just like a regular mailbox folder in Outlook. Drag and Drop. It’s SIMPLE! <Let me know if you need more help. Just post your questions in our Forum>.
- The latest versions of Windows Search indexes your mailbox AND all local .PST files (configurable) which allow for almost instant access to all emails via the search features built into Microsoft Outlook.
Backup and Disaster Recovery
- If you don’t have (or trust) an email administrator who regularly performs backups of your email server, then copying your email (yes, you don’t need to MOVE mail to .PST files, you can copy it also) to a local .PST file is a fast and easy method to ensure your email is recoverable in a server DR scenario.
- .PST files make email portable. For instance, let’s say you want to move email from one mailbox to another. For example, perhaps your changing jobs and want to bring some old email. Or perhaps you’re changing host providers. OR, maybe you want to copy your personal and work email to a .PST file, keep it on a small USB drive and keep it with you at all times. Like I said, .PST files keep mail very portable. And yes, so is a GMAIL account but this article is not about GMAIL :)
- Did you know it’s almost impossible to track/audit whether your IT guy/department is reading your email? Moving “Sensitive” or “Confidential” email off the Email / Exchange Server to a local .PST file adds a layer of security.
- Note: Most IT departments have the ability to grab your .PST files without you knowing it right from your Hard Drive at work. Because of this, applying additional security on your computer’s Hard Drive is essential. I’ll write an article on this subject shortly but for now, take a look at this article. It’s a bit “GEEKY” so I’ll follow it up soon with an article that explains a few options for securing .PST files.
What are the downsides to using .PST files?
- Once mail is moved into a .PST file, it will no longer be available on the server using remote access applications like OWA or Mobile phones which SYNC with your mailbox. To access the email in the .PST files, you will need to use a full Microsoft Outlook Client. A small USB drive can help in these situations. However, it’s still not as convenient as leaving email on the server.
People Won’t Like you, and it’s possible you could lose your job
- .PST files over time (depending on how many emails you receive/keep) can take up A LOT of space on your local Computer or a Server Share, depending on where you store them. IT guys hate anything that makes them work on anything unless it is building their resume, so putting a lot of data somewhere which will require them to buy more disk space upsets them.
- Corporate Legal and most Records Management departments don’t like .PST files as they allow you the end-user to easily ignore or bypass corporate document retention/destruction policies.
- Corporate Information Security teams also don’t like .PST files because if Legal ever asks them to recover data for a lawsuit or subpoena, .PST files can exasperate the cost and effort of the data recovery.
System & Brain Performance
- The more email you have, the more email both you and your computer need to keep track of and process.
- Because more emails and attachments get indexed by Windows Search (or some other email/system indexer), your index will be larger, AND your searches will take longer.
So, hopefully, I answered all your questions about Microsoft Outlook .PST files and covered some high-level Pros and Cons. But in case I missed anything, please feel free to drop a comment or post your question in my forum.