Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How do I backup a large number of large PSTs?

I work with about 200 end users. Most are power users on WinXP, and most use
Microsoft Outlook. Unfortunately, most do no clean up of their email, so their
pst files are about 2Gig each.

What is a good way to backup all of these pst files? Burning to CD/DVD?
Using thumb drives? Hosting their PST’s on a dedicated file server? Getting
them all huge external hard drives? Or should we simply copy and overwrite
their pst once a week to a file server, so their email program isn’t actually
working from off the network everyday?

In the ideal world, we’d change user behavior to clean up their PSTs to make
them more manageable, and we’d implement one or more of the backup
alternatives you mentioned.

However we’re dealing with the real world here, and need a real world
solution.

One thing that concerns me is that there’s typically a lot more to life than
a PST. How are you backing up everything else?

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

To just answer the specific question you’ve asked, here’s the ‘real world’
path I’d head down:

  • Copy the PSTs from their local machines to a network backup
    server nightly. Weekly is not often enough, in my opinion. If these
    folks use email to any serious degree losing a weeks worth of email on restore
    from backup is too high a cost.

  • Backup that file server nightly, probably to tape. If all
    the user files are placed on the server overnight and the server is used for
    nothing else, then the tape backup could actually run during the day.

Like I said, I think nightly backups are important, and I think preserving
those backups to tape is also important. Once on tape you can decide how long
you want to keep your backups: a week, a month, a year, or longer. That becomes
a policy decision, not a technical one.

With that out of the way, I want to address what I fear is a bigger issue.
Great, you’ve backed up their PSTs. What about everything else on their
machines? Perhaps they have work documents that aren’t part of email that would
represent a catastrophic loss if a hard disk crashed.

In other words, backing up email is not enough.

I believe you need to look at the much bigger picture of how data of all
sorts is managed in your environment and how it’s being backed up. Or not.
Pick a random user’s machine and ask: if this machine and all the data on it
disappeared, how much of a problem would that be? I’m guessing there’s more
than email that your users would care about.

“… backing up email is not enough.”

The problem here is that there’s no single magic answer in an environment
such as you describe. For the single machine home user an external hard drive
and a good backup program are enough. For your situation you probably want
something more comprehensive for your 200+ users.

One thing you can count on, though: even with the best of intentions you
cannot rely on all 200 of those users to backup themselves. In an
ideal world, maybe, but here in the real world? It’s just not gonna happen.

Ideas:

  • Run a backup program on every user’s machine, and send their backups nightly
    to a backup server, then back that up to tape periodically. This is pretty much
    like the PST-only solution above except it handles all data, not just the
    PST.

  • Rather than running the backup program on every machine, use some form of
    administrative network access to run a backup program on the backup server that
    fetches the data from the 200 machines over your network. Then backup to
    tape.

  • Have a nightly process on each user’s machine that simply copies their data
    to a central server. This could be as simple as copying the “My Documents”
    folder tree, but you must be careful and double check before making
    that assumption. This also assumes that the “system” portion of each machine
    has no data worth preserving and that systems are easily reinstalled/rebuilt
    except for user data.

Of course you could give everyone an external hard drive and a backup
program and set them up to backup each machine individually. For a set of
machines that large and with that many users, the issue here is that there’s
no auditability, and each user needs to at least be able to notice if the
backup’s not working.

I can’t resist talking just a little about the ideal world as well. Perhaps
some of it’ll rub off and generate some ideas that might make sense in your
situation.

Ideally we’d educate all users in the importance of keeping their PST’s lean
and mean. Perhaps we’d have them create “archive” PSTs which could be kept out
on your network somewhere while keeping their active PSTs small, fast, and more
importantly easier to back up.

You might mention potential data loss to your users since older versions of
Outlook’s file format break when the file exceeds 2 gigabytes in size. It’s
also not enough to be running a newer version of Outlook; it’s the file format
in use that matters and Outlook does not automatically upgrade the
file format.

And no amount of backing up – by your users or by you – will recover the
data lost due to exceeding that file size.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

5 comments on “How do I backup a large number of large PSTs?”

  1. You hit the nail on the head, even with the very small amount of info I gave you, very impressive!
    The larger picture of entire backups is the main issue here.
    Most users do store all their data on the network, not their local c:drive.
    So really, their local machine only holds their pst file and maybe some internet favorites.
    I do like the “network acces” for backups you speak of.
    Would running a batch file on logoff/shutdown via Active Directory be a good or bad idea?
    Basically copying their pst to a file server, and then tape backup of that.

    Reply
  2. mr. leo
    i am using microsoft outlook 2007. i have a huge 6 gb + .pst file. all mails are important to me. my bussiness is running on these mails. i can’t afforde to delete them. my problem is i cann’t copy my .pst file to another disk or burn one dvd. when i try to copy a message appears saying ” file size is too big”. there fore i cann’t format my system. it is working very slow.
    can u give me any solution. waiting for your early and constructive reply.
    thanking you
    dhananjay

    Reply
  3. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    Break the PST up into smaller ones on your machine first,
    and then backup the smaller ones.

    For example, I create a PST for each year as my archive.
    Works great and copies easily.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFH7vBxCMEe9B/8oqERAsdaAJ96d7rW/thGPhCaDoNbAETz+QV0DwCeMBac
    m/WwHbnk7NA+8kvrYaRNFys=
    =P7HR
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

    Reply
  4. DataMills has a backup solution that can backup both PST files and other user’s data.

    The backup is managed and treats the PST files incrementally. Another advantage is reports.

    Seach for DataMills EdgeSafe.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.