Backing up your email folders or MS Outlook .PST file

Many of us are finding that some of our most valuable data is contained in our saved email folders. We send and receive all kinds of emails with important information, receipts, instructions, and various other kinds information and attachments that we save for future reference. When I am looking for important information on my computer, it is not unusual for me to find what I am looking for in my saved emails. In fact, I am finding myself using my email folders as a general data store of information. I often send myself an email with important stuff that I don't want to lose because I am more likely to be able to find it again in my email folders than buried in a file on my disk somewhere.

I dare say that I am not the only person who keeps valuable information in their email folders. I have noticed a distinct trend. When I am helping people recover from data losses, more and more of them are placing top priority on recovering their email folders. I have identified several contributing factors to this trend.

  • Email application are where we are spending a larger percentage of our computer time.
  • Email is the primary way we share and exchange documents and information with other people.
  • Most companies, mine included, places restrictions on the amount of storage our online mailboxes can occupy, which forces us to save our historical emails in personal folders.

This growing dependence on data stored in our personal email folders causes our personal email folders to grow to substantial sizes. Attachments and images are major contributors to the size. I have posted many articles about the lack of attention paid to backing up data on personal and workstation computers. For those atypical people who actually do backup their data, many of them don't backup their email personal folder file because it is too big to fit on a CD and in many cases it doesn't fit very well on a DVD either. The other problem is the time it takes to backup these huge personal folder files. And most backup software can't properly backup the files while they are open and in use.

I use MS Outlook for email and I do backup my files. My .pst file was pushing 4GB because I am basically an email pack-rat. But I find it necessary to save a lot of emails for CYA purposes as well as the reasons discussed above. I basically use my email system as an information storage and retrieval system. I use a very good online backup system, which has the ability to backup my .pst file while it is in use and also backup only the changed parts of the file. This works great, but occasionally my entire .pst file needs to be backed up and it can take hours to do it properly. A few weeks ago, a brilliant thought came to mind. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I don't think it was so brilliant, but just an indicator of how stupid I was for five years. Basically, I decided to break up my historical emails into multiple personal folder archives. One for each year, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and also start the 2007 archive. My plan is to start a 2008 archive at the first of the year. You see, I will only need to backup the previous years only once each because they are frozen and will not change again. The current archive for this year is much smaller than the growing monster I have been backing up for the past few years. Now my I can backup my current Outlook .pst file very quickly and I still have good offsite backups of all of my previous pack-rat emails.

Regardless of which email system you are using, I highly recommend that you break up your archives into smaller more manageable files. And I also highly recommend that you use an online backup service to backup all of your data. Look for a provider that can backup open files and also backup the changes to your files (often called delta backups). Most of the dirt-cheap consumer programs don't provide adequate functionality and security. Below is a list of 10 online backup providers that I have researched and found to have the right features and security that you need to protect your data.

Rhinoback Online Backup
Data Vault
Robo Copy
Premier Backup Solutions
Secure Site Backups
Global Data Vault
Backup Guard
Applied Data Solutions

The above list is not in any particular order and there are probably others that are just as good. I just ran out of time after looking at several dozen providers and came up with this list of 10.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For enterprise backup of PST files the EdgeSafe PSt2PST backup soultion is the way to go... It can do the work while Outlook is open, do incremental backups that automatically merge into the backup file, keep history, and at the same time have centrailized management.