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Migrating .PST files to an Exchange Server information store

The first step to migrate .PST files to an Exchange Server information store is to get Microsoft Outlook users to save .PST data to their Outlook mailboxes.

After preventing users from adding new data to existing .PST files, the next step to eliminating them entirely...

is to migrate data that is currently stored in .PST files into your Exchange Server information store. This tip from Microsoft MVP Brien Posey explains how to alert users to this change and get them involved in the .PST data migration process.

The idea of migrating .PST file data into the Exchange Server information store may sound crazy. After all, most organizations are interested in extracting data from the information store and moving it into another type of repository for archiving. Often, the repository of choice is a .PST file. Keep in mind though, that moving the data into the information store is not the final solution. This is just one step in the process of gaining control of your user's messages.

As long as the data resides in .PST files, it is vulnerable to permanent loss. By moving the data into the Exchange information store, you're ensuring that all data resides in a single location, and it's being backed up regularly. Once you've reached that point, you can focus on implementing a messaging records management (MRM) solution that meets your long-term storage needs. Before reaching this point, however, you must get users' archived messages out of harm's way.

Migrating users' .PST files can be divided into two tasks.

  • The migration process itself, which encompasses moving data from .PST files to the information store.
  • Locking down Microsoft Outlook once the migration is complete so that users don't have access to .PST files.

Getting users involved in data migration

When it comes to migrating the actual data from users' .PST files, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that if users have .PST files scattered throughout various locations in an Exchange Server environment, there is no reliable method to automate the migration process. 

This means you must rely on your users to help you with the migration.

The good news is that the migration process is easy -- even for users. I suggest creating a brief, non-technical memo that tells users exactly what you're trying to accomplish. The memo should explain that the data currently stored in .PST files is not being backed up, and users are at risk of permanently losing data if certain problems occur on their workstations.

You should also explain that, in an effort to better protect users and their data, they can move data from a .PST file to their Microsoft Outlook mailboxes. Next, give them step-by-step instructions that include screen captures so they see and understand exactly what they must do, and how simple it is. You may also want to add that they can call the helpdesk for assistance. After a while, send out a second memo explaining that this data migration is mandatory, and users must comply by a certain date.

In Outlook 2007, the user simply needs to click on File and select Open -> Outlook Data File from the menu. Then choose the .PST file that they want to open and click Open.

NOTE: You may be able to skip these steps in several environments, because .PST files that are in use will be open already.

Once the .PST file is open, migrating data consists only of dragging items from the .PST file folders and dropping them into the user's mailbox folders. Once the migration is complete, users can right-click on top-level folders associated with the .PST file (usually called personal folders), and choose Close from the menu to close the folder.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a five-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Server (IIS), and File Systems and Storage. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, Brien has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal website at

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