Thursday, February 22, 2007

Outlook PST is backup-hostile

Backup is important. We all know that. Of course I backup! Except that sometimes I don't.

My external hard disk crashed a few weeks ago. Literally crashed - it will, unprotected, from about 1 meter high. It contained several years worth of my digital photos.

Of course I had it backed up, only not recently… recovering the damage was a prohibitively
expensive and unpleasant experience.

I've gotten much better at backing up since then. I've looked at several different backup solutions, and end up settling for SyncBackSE, which is backing up the data to a low-cost NAS storage. Which is probably a reasonable solution.

But the solution I'd really like to use is one of these online backup solutions, like Carobonite or others. I don't want my backup to reside on my home network. I don't want to worry about setting it up and maintaining it. I'd love to have my stuff accessible when I'm not connected to my home network. And online backup solutions can do all that.

And the number one reason I can't do that this is Microsoft Outlook and its monolithic PST file. I am hooked on Microsoft's Outlook, I've been using it for years and I love its features and smooth integration. But Outlook stores its data in a single binary file, which can get rather large.

My 3.85 Gigabyte will take years (alright, not years, but a very very long time) to backup over an Internet connection. But worse then that - every new email that I receive or send, or any other minor change will cause this file to be marked as "needing backup", and the entire 3.85 GB will need to be re-transferred.

I will be switching to another desktop email solution the moment I find one that (a) allows me to read, write and search my emails, calendar information, contacts and tasks when I'm offline and (b) uses a more sensible and backup-friendly storage scheme.


Matthew said...

With CrashPlan, only the changes will be sent. Before switching to Mac, I backed up my outlook.pst file (over 4gb) incrementally, automatically, every few hours. (outlook unlocks .pst file after period of inactivity, then crashplan swoops in and gets differences sent online.)

Anonymous said...

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This site lists more than 400 online backup companies and ranks the top 25 on a monthly basis.


Eran Sandler said...

You've got all of these annoying indexing tools for Outlook, so I'm guessing it shouldn't be that hard for one of the online backup sites to write a plugin that backups you up in an increments that are reasonable.

For example, whenever you add a meeting/contact/email or get an email (etc) it will pick it up (much like the indexers do) and save a copy of it on the side.

Every fixed interval (or when you are idle) it will send it to the backup service.

Of course, you'll need to first sync your data with the backup service, but I'm sure you can get this working over the weekend or something...

I wonder if the DOM storage ( planned for FireFox 3 and the rest of such things (I think Dojo does that as well) will give you an offline ability so you'll be able to revert to gmail and other online web mail services...

Terence Pua said...

We have been working on Project Xackmail that solves your exact problem.

Xackmail is "event-driven" so you can have Outlook open and be active all you want and it backs up in real time (new received email, backed up. new calendar item, backed up).

Launching in a couple of months.

Anonymous said...

As far as backup of files and folders goes I think RRB ( )is the most effective solution I tried so far.

It is a combination of disk backup and library emulation software. It actually converts a disk into a library of backup versions -- much like a tape library holding daily weekly and monthly versions. However, unlike tape, it consumes a space similar to a single version.

Jerry Jonsson

Jhon said...

Thanks for the article.Sometimes our pst data is lost due to any reason. I have read in magazine about Outlook pst repair software.It helps in recover your lost data.

Alex said...

I heard about not bad application-.pst convert contacts .vcf, can extract your contacts from files with *.ost and *.pst extension and convert it to *.vcf files. Other files can be extracted in *.eml and *.txt formats, another option consists in transforming *.ost file to a *.pst one.