Friday, April 1, 2005

Security trouble with PSTs? Consider email archiving


By Dave Hunt

You're sitting at your desk and suddenly you receive a message that your mailbox is full. What do you do? Well, you can ignore it for a while, but eventually your email system will stop sending or receiving mail. You can start deleting some of your files, but that takes time out of your already busy day. Or you can do what most employees do: Create PSTs (Personal Storage Files) on their hard drive.

"We have several heavy email users with large attachments," says David Haber, senior systems engineer at Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont's only academic medical center--a teaching hospital that links research, medical education training, and patient care--and one of 125 in the country. "One employee had over 3GB of PSTs and insisted he had to keep every one of them."

The risks of PSTs

Although PST files are a common way to manage mailbox size in Microsoft Exchange, they present difficulties for email administrators, and legal risks to organizations. Users can set up PST files at random, and the files can grow large enough to crowd out other data on users' hard disks. Network drive quotas can also be exceeded due to PST location. The decentralized format of PSTs presents a threat. When a company has to find email quickly, sometimes for legal reasons, it may be impossible, or extremely expensive and time consuming.

PSTs are not part of the normal security backup and maintenance processes. It's possible for important information to be lost, or worse, corrupted. There's no virus control within PSTs. PST files can only be accessed by one user at a time--the files aren't available for teamwork or departmental projects. They're also not accessible when you're away from your PC or working within Outlook Web Access. And PSTs are inefficient in their use of disk space, particularly in comparison to Exchange mailboxes. These are just some of the risks involved with PST files.

In addition, PSTs created with Outlook XP and earlier versions have size limitations. One manufacturing customer found that if a PST hit 2GB, it rendered the file useless and they had to do some tricky stuff to just be able to look at it. "Some PST files are so big that people couldn't open them up," agrees Haber.

Reduce or eliminate the need for PSTs

PST files are part of the IT environment, but you can bring them in line without alienating end users with just two words: Email archiving. Archiving reduces the dependence on existing PST files without compromising the user's access to previously stored items. Archiving will also make life easier for email administrators and reduce any security or legal risks for the company.