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.


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:


taskkill/im outlook.exe


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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