Software

Backing up users' Outlook files

For companies that don't host their own mail server, but as a matter of policy don't backup individual user's computers, the one thing that often falls through the cracks is a user's e-mail. I'll discuss a few ways to solve that problem, and open up a discussion for even more suggestions.

For companies that don't host their own mail server, but as a matter of policy don't back up individual user's computers, the one thing that often falls through the cracks is a user's e-mail. I'll discuss a few ways to solve that problem and open up a discussion for even more suggestions.

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For large companies that host their own mail server, it's probably not an issue. But for smaller companies that don't have their own mail server, or for a one- or two-person office, or perhaps for individual users at home, backing up e-mail is something that might get overlooked. Although I've considered it for some time, I currently don't host my own e-mail server. Our company also has a policy of not backing up individual user's computers, and we've instructed that all important files should be kept on a file server. In case of a hard drive failure or file corruption, however, a user's e-mail can easily get overlooked and lost.

What follows are three options that could be used to back up a user's e-mail. Personally speaking, I use the third.

Outlook 2007 Archive feature: There are a lot of options with Outlook's Archive feature, and discussing them all would be better suited for a Microsoft Office blog written by someone who's more familiar with them than I am. And while the Archive feature could be used as a way to back up a user's e-mail, it won't necessarily provide a backup the way one might prefer in case of a hard drive failure. The location of that archive pst file could be set to a location on a network, but the default setting would put it in the same folder as the original Outlook pst file, which would also get lost in the case of a hard drive failure. Many users do configure their own archive settings, and they do it their way and for their reasons. What I want to do is to simply recreate the latest iteration of what they had in case of a hard drive failure. For this and other reasons, I don't rely on Outlook's Archive feature to provide a backup. Windows Vista Backup feature: (Control Panel - Backup and Restore Center). I've played around with this to back up a user's e-mail account, and it actually works quite nicely. Moreover, it can be used to schedule a backup of any number of user files. It's not too difficult to select a network location over a local storage device, and it's pretty easy to select the files a user wants to back up. However, it's also pretty easy for a user to select everything, which could get pretty significant in size. And considering the fact that the back-up feature incrementally adds to an original back-up set, it could get pretty big pretty fast. This might be a good option for one or two users, but to maintain a location for dozens of users, drive space might be a consideration — unless, of course, one were to use a second local hard drive as the back-up location for each and every one of them. Moreover, as with most back-up programs, the way to retrieve them is by way of a restore process. Personally speaking, I'd much rather just copy a file or folder from one location to another and call it a day, which is why I prefer my third option. Scheduled task running a batch file with RoboCopy: Maybe it goes back to my old DOS days, but I like using batch files to perform some simple tasks. I even use batch files to save different iterations of my file server data files to any number of back-up locations. I wrote a simple one that would back up a user's current Outlook pst file. The only problem with using copy, xcopy, or RoboCopy is that it fails if Outlook is left open, which many people do, especially if they have a vacation reply activated or something like that. I got around this by starting the batch file with a line to close Outlook (taskkill), and ended it with a line to reopen Outlook (start). My simple batch file (which I named Outlook-BU.bat) looks like this:

cd\

taskkill/im outlook.exe

TIMEOUT 10

Robocopy Source Destination /MIR

cd Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\

start Outlook.exe

Line 1: Puts me on the root drive (C:\).

Line 2: Closes Outlook.

Line 3: Pauses the batch program for ten seconds, giving Outlook enough time to close.

Line 4: Copies all Outlook files and subfolders to the back-up location.

Line 5: Changes to the Outlook directory.

Line 6: Starts Outlook.

Note 1: My Source and Destination looks like this: Users\JoeR\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook \\Server0\Desktop-BU\Rosberg\Outlook. Note 2: The MIR switch is used to copy an entire directory tree, which would be nice if you want to include another line to back up even more files. I used it in case anyone put a dated archive file in a subfolder. I could have just as easily used the wildcard *.* Note 3: Open a command window and enter RoboCopy/? to see all possible switch options.

Sure, a downside is that Outlook will open even if it was closed to begin with, but nobody seems to care about that. I briefly looked for a way to add a conditional line that would close and reopen Outlook only if it was open to begin with, but I'm not sure if there is a way to test for a running program from within a batch file. If there is, I don't know the code, but I'll continue to look for a way to do it. Nonetheless, in my case, it's not a big deal to leave it the way it is. (Maybe someone knows how to do that. If so, feel free to share.)

I have this batch file on each user's computer (with the user path changed accordingly), and I have scheduled a task to automatically run at a certain time after business hours. It could be daily, weekly, or monthly. I scheduled my users to run daily and scheduled each user task at about fifteen-minute increments so everyone wasn't writing to the same server location at the same time. In my case, most people leave their computers on overnight, but I asked each one what their preference was. For those who do turn them off daily, I scheduled the batch file to run at startup. (To schedule a task with Vista and see the options, go to Control Panel - Administrative Tools - Task Scheduler - Action - Create a Basic Task.)

The bottom line is that not one back-up solution will serve all back-up needs. This is the one that works for me, but it may not for you. After all, the only thing I try to do is to recreate a user's e-mail account the way it was just before a hard drive failure, and this seems to do just that.

How about you? If you don't host your own mail server, do you back up a user's client e-mail files? And if so, how do you do it? Any and all comments are welcome in the ensuing discussion.

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