Software optimize

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.

30 comments
JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

Users are responsible for their data - period. If they ask, I will show them how to back it up, but they are on their own.

ehamouda
ehamouda

hi all, If we have a small office that outsource it's Email services, we use outlook Archive method, i think it's more convenient.

playyourcards
playyourcards

are you going to every client and adding this to their scheduled tasks? how would you write this with "JoeR" replaced with current logged on user. Something like \systemroot\documents and settings\%%Logged_on_User%%\local settings\application data\ ... thank you for any insight you may have... this would be killer in group policy and thanks for the article.

Joe_R
Joe_R

In regards to the original blog piece: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=390 How about you? If you don't host your own mail server, do you backup 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.

bill.strough
bill.strough

One of the primary jobs of IT is to ensure the network runs smoothly and that corporate data is secure. In my opinion it is the responsibility of IT to ensure that files on any company computer are safe and backed up. Emails fall in to the same realm. This is company property and you should be making sure that company property is kept safe in case originals are lost due to hardware failure or deleted with malicious or accidental intent by a user.

playyourcards
playyourcards

to an exent, you are right, to another extent, you are wrong. when it comes to backing up documents, yes, users should back up their own documents because we do not know which ones are important. but on the other hand, when it comes to their pst files, they wouldnt have a clue where to start or where to find it or why it wont copy. As IT professions, it is our job to help our users work as smoothly as possible.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Yes, I did change the path on all user's computers, but my office is so small (less than 24) that it didn't take a lot of time, and I did it at a time when I was performing some regular maintenance on their computers anyway. I was hoping someone would share some ideas on how to do the same thing using group policies, but that's not really my forte'.

www.davidhartley.com
www.davidhartley.com

for most SMB this is a no brainer. I.T. policy should be: all files related in any way, shape, or form.. to company business (likely includes email !) -reside on file server. File server is religiously backed up. -thus, Outlook PST's are backed up. Setting path to PST's located on server is a no brainer. Keeping any valuable company resources / intellectual property on user's workstations is negligent imho. www.davidhartley.com

c.p.karliczek
c.p.karliczek

There is a nice and handy solution out there : Combine Outlook Archives (.pst) with the free Outlook-Add-in for backing up personal folder file sand you have a documented and working solution out-of-the-box. "This is what Microsoft says : Backing up your Microsoft Outlook information is quicker and easier with the Personal Folders Backup feature. Personal Folders Backup creates backup copies of your .PST files at regular intervals, in Outlook 2002 and later versions, making it easy to keep all of your Outlook folders safely backed up." The Add-In is found here : http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=8b081f3a-b7d0-4b16-b8af-5a6322f4fd01 Nevertheless,you have to develop a rocksolid backup strategy for your filerserver. Even in small environments, a simple NAS storing files and backups makes sense.Add an external DVD burner and you are prepared. Use gigabit-equipment,its worth the investment.

ruby.otero
ruby.otero

We also dont host emails in our company so we have to backup our own .PST ourselves in some networks drive or shared folders once a month. One time I export .pst file to a shared folder and it cost me 1.5gb space.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I'm not talking about company data! All company data is stored on servers. I'm talking about user data that they have been told to backup themselves.

www.davidhartley.com
www.davidhartley.com

store the PST's on the SERVER (d'OH ...) -all company data should be stored on server. NONE should be stored on workstation. How easy is that ? www.davidhartley.com

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

People should learn how to properly use anything they depend on. It would take less than 5 minutes on the MS website or even Google to find out how to backup a PST file. I think it's even in the Outlook help. Now understand, I'm talking about corporate type people here. Private citizen type people, like the members of my church who get free support are different. I hold their hands as much as possible.

SamWarren
SamWarren

This backs up your outlook data extremely easily. It is a plug in and does it at the message level as opposed to the file level. Restoring is very easy, you can even keep two computers synched or use it to migrate easily to a new computer. It uses Amazon S3 as an offsite location to store the data. I have been using it for a couple of weeks and it has been awesome. I dont notice it at all. It also has some addtional goodies that lets me deal with my exchange quota. attassa.com

playyourcards
playyourcards

this page has a list of xp environment variables that you can plug into your script. http://vlaurie.com/computers2/Articles/environment.htm The one that applies to your script would be %%USERPROFILE%% and you can actually just throw your script into the logoff script section of a group policy. you will then link it to the necessary OU. Group Policy will save you a lot of time, especially when you move to a different company. and i used xcopy in your script because xcopy is built into xp and robocopy is not. You can even take this script to the next job and just change the destination.

hsnelson
hsnelson

So, we have small offices in 13 different cities. Only two have servers, and we have the PFBackup tool direct the PST backup to the server for them. Other individuals are on their own. The PFBackup goes to their My Docs, and we tell them how to back up My Docs to an external drive or free online storage place (we are a poor non-profit). All "real" company data (besides individual documents and the PSTs) are on various ASP applications. I don't see how we can automate PST or any other backups when people are on laptops and not plugged in at any certain times. Any thoughts?

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

The Outlook Backup Addin is an excellent tool and I use it often for client's home computers. But on a corporate network, it isn't ideal because it actually asks the user whether to backup. So, the user can ignore the option to backup the file and this can cause problems.

bill.strough
bill.strough

If it is not company data what is it doing on a company computer? Why should IT be responsible for personal files? If it gets lost it is the user's issue. If your boss, or their boss, feels it should be your responsibility to secure their personal data then you probably have bigger problems than backing up personal data.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

"I.T. policy: all company data ... resides on company server" That is exactly what I am talking about.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

Unless the PST's have been moved from their default location. C:\documents and settings\%USERNAME%\local settings\application data\microsoft\... location is different for Outlook and Outlook express. Bill

Aakash Shah
Aakash Shah

Although it could be done as a log off script, I wouldn't recommend it because it would take a very long time. If the PST file was 1GB, it would have to copy the entire file back and so the user would have to wait while this file is copied if the user is simply rebooting and not just logging/shutting down for the day. By scheduling it late at night, you don't have to worry about the amount of time it takes to copy and users waiting on this. So, I wouldn't recommend copying a PST file in a logoff script.

todd
todd

So is there a specific reason that you're not using Group Policy to run this as a logoff script? Take the whole thing out of the users hands - other than having to shut down or restart every once in awhile. I'd like to implement something like this myself. Thanks. TC

www.davidhartley.com
www.davidhartley.com

.. nor is there any value in, nor excuse for hiding your head in a hole in the ground. People ARE computer illiterate. Computer uber-literacy is YOUR JOB. (be thankful ?) -but at any rate be REAL: and take your responsibility seriously instead of getting some kind of attitude which you (very wrongly) feel justifies your negligence. There is only one reasonable way for SMB (and even very smallbiz, who could use Windows home server, or cheap linux box, or whatEVER as a company file server) I.T. policy: all company data (obviously includes email !) resides on company server. End of story. If server isn't backed up, don't try to blame it on lazy / illiterate users ;-) www.davidhartley.com

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

when they start screaming at you if it doesn't work and they lose data? There is no excuse for being lazy and/or computer illiterate these days.

playyourcards
playyourcards

As the last guy said, this is corporate data, not their personal emails. And when you are in a field where it's easy to be the scapegoat, it's better to say 'i'm two steps ahead of you, here's your backup', rather than 'it's not my job.' As for batching opposed to using a premade tool, the positives include learning to script and seeing how far you can take it and customizing it to your specific application. Whereas a tool you get from the internet might not have a domain in mind and not have a management console. When it comes to deploying applications or stuff like copying emails, scripting is the best way to go.

douglaswlloyd
douglaswlloyd

I can't agree - I support users first, equipment second. My job is to help them help themselves, and we are dealing with corporate data here. But let's let that long-standing argument drop for now. My users need more than just PST files backed up. I wrote a batch file that pretty much duplicates all a user would care about to a mapped drive letter B: on a shared network drive: @Echo off cls Echo Doug's data backup helper Echo (c)2001 XYZ Corporation Echo . Echo . Echo . Echo This program will copy your data files Echo from the notebook to your personal data folder on (yourserver) Echo . Echo Be sure all programs are closed and Outlook is not running, then pause cls Echo Working...please be patient... Echo . xcopy "C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents\*.*" "B:\Data Backup\My Documents\" /s /e /v /c /h /k /d /r /y /i > "B:\Data Backup\xcopy.log" Echo all of the "My Documents" folder has finished copying... Echo . xcopy "C:\Documents and Settings\username\Desktop\*.*" "B:\Data Backup\Desktop\" /s /e /v /c /h /k /d /r /y /i >> "B:\Data Backup\xcopy.log" Echo all of the files on your Windows Desktop have finished copying... Echo . xcopy "C:\Documents and Settings\username\Favorites\*.*" "B:\Data Backup\Favorites\" /s /e /v /c /h /k /d /r /y /i >> "B:\Data Backup\xcopy.log" Echo all Internet Explorer Favorites have finished copying... Echo . Echo . Echo All done! Echo . Echo . pause Really simple, really fast - even writes a log file. Due to the nature of PST files changing time, date and size, these invariably get scooped up by the batch file's /I parameter, so speed is limited by how active the user's email is. My users know to run this on-demand tool from the desktop before they jump a plane or if something odd is occurring with their computer. YMMV, Doug

playyourcards
playyourcards

you supposed to substitute %USERNAME% for the username directory, NOT %USERPROFILE%.

Cerebral*Origami
Cerebral*Origami

They may not support it but it works great. I have been using the set up of PSTs in concert with exchange for over 10 years. (I use the PSTs because MS backup will not backup open files and the exchange database is almost never closed.