A Guide to PST Files How Managing PSTs Will Benefit Your Business

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1 A Guide to PST Files How Managing PSTs Will Benefit Your Business

2 What are PST files? An unfamiliar term to those outside of IT, PST files are created by Outlook when the Auto Archive function is used. To non-it people they are known as Outlook archives or personal archives. This auto-archive function historically allowed users to bypass mailbox quota limits which IT departments have enforced to overcome the limitation of the central Exchange server. This feature is turned on by default in Outlook 2003 and 2007 resulting in a file (PST) which is effectively a container file where all the s are stored. PST is an acronym for Personal Storage Table but nobody uses that term; it s more commonly referred to as a personal archive. Why are PST files considered a problem? There are two major problems to PST files. One is operational, the other corporate risk and many more arise when considering eliminating them. In IT operations they take up a lot of time as they corrupt easily, are easily misplaced and are infrequently (if ever) backed up. The corporate risk is far more serious. Since central IT can be oblivious to PSTs existence, they will be totally unaware of their content, and there is a risk that unseen data relevant to an investigation or litigation will be overlooked. The myriad of problems regarding their elimination relate to the locations, access, ownership, volume of storage, content, age of data and many other items to challenge both an IT and legal department. Where are they located? PSTs can be located almost anywhere. By default, Outlook will create them on a user s desktop or laptop, however that does not stop them being located on corporate servers, removable media such as USB and flash drives etc., or even home PCs. Are they secure? This depends on a number of factors but normally, no. PST files are highly portable; they can be disconnected from Outlook and copied or moved to another Outlook client with ease. They can be seen as a great way of moving data between people and/or organizations quickly. They can be password protected, although a simple search on the internet will find any number of programs that can crack these passwords. Are they reliable? PSTs are notoriously unreliable, they were never designed to hold the amount of data they do today. Users keep pouring more s into them blissfully unaware of the risk this poses to their data % of an IT department s daily helpdesk calls can be taken up with looking after these files. Are they always available? The perception for a lot of users is yes, but this is not always the case. Outlook must have access to the location where the PST file is stored. This is fine for office-based users who have the same access to either local or network storage, however if the user has the ability to work from different desktops or locations they may not be able to gain access to the PSTs. Also, if the user uses Outlook Web App (OWA) then they cannot gain access to the files. Secondly PST files can easily be disconnected by users from their Outlook profile either inadvertently via a failure such as a power outage or PC crash or by the user closing them. For some users this is standard practice when they are managing a number of PST files. These PSTs can be reopened at any time as long as the user knows their location. Though for most users, once the PST is closed, it is either forgotten about

3 or they cannot find it again, therefore creating an orphaned PST. Orphaned PST files can still contain valuable business information that may need to be preserved or discovered. Are they backed up? This very much depends on their location and how the IT department has managed them. If they are located on desktops and laptops there is a very high chance that they will fall outside the corporate backup strategy and therefore not be protected. If however they are located on network shares, then the chances are they are being backed up, however this in itself brings a set of new challenges to the IT department. Do companies still use them? Yes. Many companies will copy a former employee s mailbox to a PST as a method of retention. These practices can change from time to time or be overlooked, so consistency may be a problem. Companies also frequently use them for passing large amounts of data around between locations or even intracompany. Do employees still use them? Yes. Nevertheless there is a very high chance they don t know it. Many workers favor the Auto Archive as a way to organize and keep older s without understanding the risks, particularly if their mailbox is restricted by quota limits. So, is it down to the user to manage their own PSTs? By their very nature PSTs are created by the end-user. It is therefore fair to say that by default the user has ended up managing them to varying degrees of success. The more savvy user will have ad-hoc copies of their PSTs on network shares, removable disks etc. which provides them with some level of backup and/ or protection. Apart from the potential security risk this presents, it can also lead to data being duplicated or worse. Therefore should users manage PSTs files? The simple answer is no. They should not be burdened with ensuring business critical data is protected. This responsibility falls at the door of IT departments who are better equipped to do so. Do PSTs fall under Compliance & Legal Hold requirements? The PST itself does not, as it is merely a container, it is the s and attachments that are hidden within that do. Since most legal discovery occurs sometime after the alleged incident, not knowing the location or indeed the owner of PSTs can make Legal Hold and Compliance problematic. Which IT projects can PST files impact? Office 365 Migration Where organizations are looking to move the overhead of their office applications to Microsoft online platform, PSTs should be considered as either part of that migration or certainly straight afterwards. Consolidating all data into the online Exchange environment will not only enhance the users experience and productivity but also ensure that any legacy data is protected. Desktop Refresh When considering a refresh to either new hardware or a virtual environment the impact of PST files should not be under estimated. They can be located anywhere in the desktop environment and without careful consideration and a large amount of data is put at risk if they are not discovered and handled correctly.

4 ediscovery and edisclosure For instances when an organization needs to identify information including s that are relevant to a particular issue. However, any s contained in PST files won t be identified because their contents are available only to their end-user. Corporate compliance Best practice is jeopardized by PST files because they often contain s which should have been managed but, owing to restrictions on access are not subject to the usual policies. (Defensible compliance dictates that all known sources need to have a consistent policy applied to them). What is the magnitude of the PST problem? Figures vary, but what we see when we examine customers environments, averages 2-4 PST files per active mailbox, ranging from a couple of Megabytes up to many Gigabytes. A typical PST file may contain 10,000 individual messages with attachments which is normally around 1 GB of data. In storage terms, this doesn t sound like a lot but multiply this by the number of mailboxes and triple that figure (average number of PSTs per mailbox being 3) and the scale of the problem can be seen. Consider too, that these s contain business critical data such as supplier contracts, customer orders, research data etc. The size of the PST files is not always the biggest problem. In practice, most enterprises have thousands of PSTs littered throughout their infrastructure going unseen and unprotected. How do we find out if we have a PST problem? The IT department will have a good idea if PSTs exist or not. What will be less clear is the scale of the problem. An initial search will certainly give an indication of the problem and this may be enough. In our experience however, more information is required. For example, actual data size compared to on-disk size; who owns the data? Especially important for all those lost, orphaned PSTs. Also once you have the information, careful consideration will have to be given as to what to do with the PSTs. Can IT departments manage them? Yes, with the right strategy and tools - although this does not mean that they are currently being managed. For a long time PST files have been the thorn in the side of IT departments. PSTs have served a purpose for many years for both the user and the IT department with either the associated risks to the business being invisible, or a blind eye being turned to the risks being taken. IT administrators will have several options available to them: they can simply live with the PST; they can migrate the data back into Exchange, they can ingest the data into a third party archiving solution or they can soft retire the PST. This means leaving the PST in place while setting retention policies against the data inside it, therefore after a period of time the PST will be empty and can be removed safely. Can t PST files just be deleted? Many PST files are collections of old and obsolete s which are candidates for deletion. However the PST file properties not only restrict access but also fail to provide details on what the file contains or how old these s are. An organization needs to consider whether it is prepared to live with the consequences of deleting this data without understanding the type and value of that information. Even if there is a corporate retention policy, it s important to understand what will be deleted before doing so. Deletion of information could fall foul of various laws if the data pertaining to litigation or investigation were involved, resulting in fines and bad publicity.

5 What tools are available for managing PST files? There are a number of archiving solutions with embedded PST management tools which offer varying degrees of success. There are also stand-alone PST Management tools ranging from Microsoft s own free PST Capture tool to enterprise-class solutions that meet the demands of more complex PST migration projects. Microsoft s tool is free is that not enough? Microsoft have attempted to solve the problem with the release of PST Capture, which will ingest PST files back into inboxes to address the challenges of legacy PST files. The problem with this is that the PST Capture tool doesn t scale to the typical PST problem that most larger companies face. The Microsoft PST Capture tool is only a partial solution. It was designed to address the ingestion issue, and requires a great deal of manual intervention. It doesn t cover the necessary work involved in finding, organizing, migrating and finally, deleting PSTs, so unless you are a company with less than 100 mailboxes, deployment of a third party solution is advised. You can find out more in this feature comparison piece. What features should a PST Management tool provide? A PST Management tool should provide the ability to migrate, move, or copy only a portion of the PST contents i.e., the ability to run policies to help control the amount of data which is managed; the tool needs scheduling capabilities. The tool also needs to be able to delete PST files upon completion of management tasks. All these features should include a high degree of automation: locating PSTs on remote desktops and laptops is a timeconsuming task, so the tool should automate this process without involving the end user. Which of those options is best? The right choice will very much depend on three main factors; risk, performance and cost. Risk Performance Cost How much value the historical data holds to your business. What risk is involved by deleting it without adhering to the corporate retention policies? The impact on Exchange, the impact on your users and the impact on business working practices such as work anywhere, anytime. How much money can you commit to the project both in the short and long term with regards to storage and personnel? These decisions are individual to each company and will normally fall within the overall company retention and discovery requirements that facilitate governance and best practice. The key is to have a consistent, automated, scalable practice that solves the problem, backup up by an audit trail of the activity. Will the PST problem ever go away? The latest versions of Exchange 2010/13 have better capacity management and the use of PSTs has been negated with the addition of inplace archiving. There is also the option for third party archiving solutions, which allow organizations to better streamline and manage their environments. It is still important to consider the historical PSTs and the data that resides within them. Ultimately, removing PST files will have a positive effect on all downstream processes, as well as eliminating much of the legal risk and uncertainty in unmanaged containers of data sitting on your corporate servers and end users desktops.

6 A Guide to PST Files: How Managing Your PSTs Will Benefit Your Business The emergence of big data and the realization of enterprises that to retain a competitive edge they need to be able to analyze ALL their data makes PST management a business driver and not just an IT requirement. In summary what are the benefits of managing PST files? Reduce Costs Streamlined processes with centralized storage Reduce IT overheads Reduce back up windows and restore times Reduce Risk Mitigate risk association of unmanaged data Protect against end user data loss and intellectual property data loss. Implement robust data retention and defensible deletion policies Help with compliance, Freedom of Information, Data Protection and financial regulations. Support ediscovery and edisclosure requests Improve Performance Alleviate pressure on storage and back up windows Improve restore times of business-critical file servers Quicker retrieval of centrally stored information Reduce IT support requests Remove obstacles for projects such as hardware upgrades, BYOD, VDI or Office 365 migration About Barracuda Networks, Inc. Protecting users, applications, and data for more than 150,000 organizations worldwide, Barracuda Networks has developed a global reputation as the go-to leader for powerful, easy-to-use, affordable IT solutions. The company s proven customer-centric business model focuses on delivering high-value, subscription-based IT solutions for security and data protection. For additional information, please visit Barracuda Networks and the Barracuda Networks logo are registered trademarks of Barracuda Networks, Inc. in the United States. All other names are the property of their respective owners. Barracuda Networks Inc., 3175 S. Winchester Boulevard, Campbell, CA 95008, United States t: t: (US & Canada) e: w: barracuda.com

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