A word on Email Archiving

When you manage the mail on a Windows network, there are always challenges with mailbox management. You’ve had to set limitations on mailbox size. You’ve had to make concessions for public companies who need to keep all of their mail. You’ve run into cost limitations that make purchasing licenses, storage space and upgrading your Exchange environment impossible.

Today I’m going to discuss a few of these common scenarios and what can be done to mitigate corruption.

For the mail administrator who has no option but to keep copies of .PST’s, there are a few things to avoid. First and foremost, I would avoid keeping your .PST’s on a network volume. This general rule isn’t for .PST’s that you have saved for archival purposes, this is for .PST’s that users have live access to via their outlook profile.

Microsoft has a very good article about why you should avoid putting your .PST’s on the network at all costs here:http://blogs.technet.com/b/askperf/archive/2007/01/21/network-stored-pst-files-don-t-do-it.aspxI’d recommend the read, and if you need to – you can use it as a business case to move to online archiving (we’ll get to that later).

-Recovering a corrupt .PST-

You can likely get away with keeping a 2-5 GB .PST on the network that is to be accessed on a daily basis with not much trouble, even though MS doesn’t recommend it. Chances are it’s not going to corrupt, but it might. If you’ve already found yourself in this situation, you can use SCANPST to try and recover your mail. (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/272227). In the event that the tool doesn’t work, there are a host of 3rd party utilities out there that do the same thing (only better) but I will not vouch for them here.

-What to do instead of keeping active .PST’s on the network-

If you have Outlook 2003-2010, Microsoft has had a ‘Personal Folders Backup’ tool for a while now that will back up your local PST’s to the network drive. See (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/238782). This tool will allow you to keep your PST local while having it back up to the network on a scheduled interval. (Usually upon closing outlook). Alternatively you could use a Robocopy script to copy the local PST to the network drive. The real problem is getting it to run reliably. If your user has a laptop and likes to take off quickly without letting either the backup tool or a script run, then some user education is required. Cutting off a copy job mid-run could corrupt your PST that is saved on the network.

-The correct infrastructure for mail management-

Now to the ‘Online Archive’ component of office and Exchange. It is essentially another Exchange database specifically for archived emails where you can set retention policies and have archive emails accessible to users (Both with Outlook and OWA).Online Archival was introduced in Exchange 2010, so if you’re planning on having this functionality, an upgrade to at least EX2010 will need to take place.

Using online archive component of Outlook is not as simple as flicking a switch.

Here are the requirements:

*You must have an Exchange Server Enterprise Client Access License (CAL). Note that the license is enterprise, and yes they cost more. Speak to your vendor about bulk purchases.

*You must have an Office 2007, 2010, or 2013 Professional license. Otherwise the online archive mailbox will simply not show up. If you have the CAL, it will show up in OWA, but the Outlook client will not see it.

-If you absolutely must keep .PST’s on the network-

If you have to keep your PST’s on a network volume, you can at least try to take the load off your wireless network. This will increase the likelihood that your wireless network will remain responsive and your .PST’s will corrupt less often. On to the specifics.

Even if you have a stable LAN connection, often the wireless adapter takes precedence over the Wired LAN. This will cause long load times with Outlook and congest your wireless network with the PST traffic. Because wireless communication is one way at a time only, the constant connection with your PST will often cause corruption. If you absolutely need to, you can change adapter precedence here:
Control Panel – Network and Internet – Network connections. Press the ALT key to view the advanced menu. Click Advanced settings and move your wired adapter to the top.

(Or read this article J – http://levynewsnetwork.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/windows-7-default-internet-connection-choice/)

You can script adapter precedence if you like, and setup a GPO to apply this to OU’s where applicable. I’d really recommend setting the wired over wireless for everyone, as often times you’ll hear of network performance issues for power users when their laptop is using the Wireless adapter over the wired. This becomes a major issue when, for example: graphic designers are constantly saving large files to the network, or programmers are compiling code to the network. See here for the scripts as per MS:
http://support2.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;894564

If you’ve ever fought with BYOD and heavy wireless use environments, you’ll quickly find out that having 50 people connected to one WAP will ruin your day and everyone else’s. In this case it becomes ever more important to have as many devices on the wired network as possible.

So back to the original question at hand. Even if you have a stable LAN connection, and it’s a desktop, and the PST isn’t that large – DO NOT DO IT unless you absolutely have no alternative. It becomes a management nightmare; and even though you may have had great luck with this for years – your PST’s will corrupt at the least opportune time.

This has been an issue for many a sysadmin for many, many years – and Microsoft’s answer has been online archiving, albeit a costly one. So take stock of the tips above and apply whatever best suits your environment.

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