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Why Move PST Files to Exchange Online Archive or User Mailboxes?

Aug 14, 2020 by Chris Cahill

Dominik Hoefling and Mike Weaver promoting their webinar on how to move PST files to online archive or O365 user mailboxes

View the on-demand webinar – How to Move PST Files to Office 365

If you’re in charge of administering a corporate Microsoft Exchange environment, you’ll know PST files can be problematic. The data can be widely-dispersed throughout your network, and it’s highly susceptible to corruption. The good news is, when you move PST files to an online archive, you make them much easier to access, backup, and manage.

PSTs are created via the Microsoft Outlook desktop client for storing local copies of email messages, calendar events, contacts, and so on. Each file is a container made up of a folder structure, and they can grow to 50GB in size. Generally speaking, the bigger the PST file, the higher the chances of corruption.

With the continuing ‘new normal’ of remote work, PST problems have been in the spotlight, as the data is virtually impossible to access remotely. Thus, organizations are faced with the dilemma of either moving PST files to an online archive or, essentially, hoping for the best. 

Manual PST Migration Approaches

We’ll get to the reasons for wanting to move PST files to your online archive shortly, but first, here’s a quick overview of how the process is typically achieved. 

Initially, end-users can move Outlook items such as messages, contacts, and calendar items to their own primary mailboxes by using the import/export wizard in Outlook to import PST files.

Users can also move these PST files into the Exchange Online Archive, but only after an administrator has used the Exchange Admin Center (EAC) to enable this advanced archiving feature for their accounts. A specific archive mailbox will then show up alongside the users’ primary mailbox folders in Outlook or OWA.

Users of the Online Archive can then Import data from PST files to the archive using Outlook’s Import and Export wizard. Alternatively, users can also drag email messages from PST files into the archive, drag email messages from the primary mailbox into the archive, or allow archive retention policies to automatically ship email content from the primary mailbox based on the age of the messages.

Administrators can also leverage the Security & Compliance Center to quickly bulk-import archived PST files to Exchange Online mailboxes throughout the organization. Importing the PST files to Office 365 provides immediate access to several features that are helpful for regulatory compliance. 

There are two methods for bulk import:

  1. In the first method, PST files are uploaded to a temporary Azure Storage location in the Microsoft cloud. The Office 365 Import service is then used to import the PST data to end-users’ mailboxes.
  2. For the second method, PST files are manually copied to a BitLocker-encrypted hard drive, which is then physically shipped to Microsoft. When Microsoft receives the hard drive, data center personnel upload the data to a temporary Azure Storage location in the Microsoft cloud. The corporate administrator then uses the Microsoft 365 Import wizard to move PST files to users’ mailboxes.

5 Reasons to Move PST Files to Online Archive or Mailboxes

Why bother, though? There are five main reasons to move PST files to Exchange Online archiving or end-user mailboxes.

1. Location, location, location

One place PST files are likely to be found is on USB thumb drives – that is, if the thumb drive can be found at all. End-users are well known for swapping out thumb drives, and eventually losing them altogether.

However, when messages are moved to the primary or archive mailbox, PST files are simple to find. Both mailboxes are fully searchable.

2. Preserving data integrity

Even when PST files are located on a PC or removable hard drive, the files are subject to corruption through network interruptions, system crashes, and storage failures. With the proliferation of home workers over VPN connections, network interruptions are increasingly likely.

What’s more, when PCs are situated in remote locations, it’s harder for IT to perform preventive maintenance that could help to circumvent system crashes and storage failures.

3. Enabling access from multiple PCs

When you move PST files to an online archive or the primary mailbox, it makes it easy to move Outlook items from one PC, such as an office workstation, to another, such as a laptop in a home office.

Beyond that, end-users can quickly move from a PC to a Mac or from one email account to another email account.

4. Building data redundancy

End-users can also move Outlook items between local primary mailbox folders and an Exchange or IMAP server, to reduce the size of their mailboxes and help improve performance. If the corporate IT department is responsible for backing up items on the server, then the files will become part of regular backups, providing server redundancy in case of data loss or corruption on the end user’s side.

However, a major advantage of moving PST files to the archive mailbox is that Exchange Online Archiving offers even greater redundancy. Archive mailboxes are replicated to multiple database copies, in geographically dispersed Microsoft data centers, for data restoration in the event of a messaging infrastructure crash.

What’s more, if end-users make mistakes or change their minds about deleting items, users can restore items they’ve deleted from any email folder in their archive. When items are deleted, they’re kept in the archive’s Deleted Items folder, and it stays there until it’s either removed by the user manually or removed via automated retention policies. Beyond that, even after an item has been removed from the archive’s Deleted Items folder, it remains in the archive’s Recoverable Items folder for another 14 days before it’s permanently removed.

5. Regulatory compliance

If your organization has regulatory concerns, doing a bulk upload of PST files to Microsoft 365 can give you a jumpstart on meeting compliance requirements throughout the organization. By using an intelligent import feature in Microsoft 365, you can filter the items in archived data that actually get imported to target mailboxes.

Features which can be especially useful for regulatory compliance include Litigation Hold for retaining specified content, communications compliance for making sure that messages are compliant with communications standards, and eDiscovery cases for managing your organization’s legal investigations.

Move Your PST Files to Online Archive 

The bulk upload approach can be efficient for small batches, but there’s a huge risk of user disruption if large organizations attempt mass-migration using free tools. In contrast, Quadrotech’s PST Flight Deck is designed with enterprises in mind, capable of locating, repairing, and migrating PST files to Office 365.  

Legacy PST data is not compatible with modern IT environments, yet many international organizations are still plagued with them. If you’re ready to upgrade the user experience, check out our White Paper here.

If you’d like to discuss a PST migration project with our expert team, please contact us today.