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PST: Email Personal Store or Corporate Pest?

August 31st, 2005

In business few people will go a day without using email in one form or another, some people are positively addicted to it. We happily discuss terms of a contract with a supplier, have internal pricing discussions and yes, even arrange that lunch with the person sitting next to us.

Many of us can’t function at a business (or even a personal) level without email. Because it runs our daily lives, in many ways it’s also the unwitting diary of our lives, which is why we all get very protective about content.

Although we view email as our own personal property, of course we rely on the underlying corporate IT system to deliver a reliable, 24×7 system. And herein lies a problem; IT has to balance email availability with volume of email stored, as a result most people will be governed by an email quota which in turn dictates how much, or how long, email can be stored. At some point the quota will be in danger of being exceeded and there are usually limited options: Delete email which may be important, or copy it to a personal store, more commonly known as a PST file in the world of Microsoft.

Interestingly type “pst” into Microsoft Word and the spell-checker will identify a miss-spelling. Top of the list for alternative words to use is pest! Very appropriate really.

While a PST file may, at first sight, appear to solve the crisis of email storage, the removal of older information to a store outside Exchange will have more far-reaching consequences.

The “pest” has several characteristics that will come back to bite the unwitting organisation. Exchange has the concept of “single instance”. That means even if ten people receive the same email with a large attachment, it will only be stored once. If all ten people then wish to save it for longevity “single instance” is lost, so a ten-fold increase in storage and ten-times more data to backup is the result.

To most users Outlook is more than just email, it is their personal knowledge store, their database. Their job relies upon finding information quickly. An email strategy that forces deletion of email, or its removal to another location, immediately makes them less productive. But that’s only part of the impact. With users being encouraged to actively move information out of Exchange, it significantly increases corporate risk. In many organisations the “pest” is likely to be stored on a desktop or laptop. What’s the backup strategy? If the laptop is lost or stolen what happens to the email which confirms the validity of a multi-million pound contract under legal dispute?

Even without the laptop being lost, is the information really available? How would you address the task of looking for an email, sent a year ago by someone who has left the company and had their laptop recycled?

Information loss is a major threat to the well-being of most organisations. Email is a corporate asset; it should be protected as such. The answer to this would seem to be to store PST files on a corporate file server which falls within a backup regime. Initially this addresses the issue. Email growth in Exchange is managed and the corporate asset is protected, until that is the file server groans under the volume of storage and the backup window is threatened.

The scenarios above are not theoretical. They will touch a nerve in many readers of this article. They are also a reason why the email archiving market has seen spectacular growth over recent years. Email archiving offers a solution. Email growth is controlled through comprehensive archiving policies. The email and attachments are moved to a lower cost storage location, but access is preserved in Outlook through transparent shortcuts. The user still has their personal knowledge base, Exchange remains manageable and overall storage requirements are reduced. Most importantly the “pest” can be eradicated.

Almost as a by-product of managing email the company also gets a corporate knowledge store; one place to go to find that email which saves the company millions. Carrying out pest control will have a very positive impact on corporate health.

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