Microsoft didn't quite make the predicted end-of-year 2011 release for its Microsoft Exchange PST Capture tool that was originally announced last summer. But the good news is, as of today you can get this long-awaited -- and free -- tool in the Microsoft Download Center.
The aim of this tool is to discover PSTs throughout your network, including on PCs, fileshares, even USB drives, and give you the ability to import them into Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 or to Exchange Online. "As we've had a lot of success with our archiving technology and people adopting Exchange 2010," said Ankur Kothari, a senior product manager with Exchange, "one of the things that customers have been asking us for is the ability to stop having these rogue bits of data across their organizations." PST Capture helps fight this problem by collecting PSTs "in a centrally managed place so that they can do things like discover against that data or have appropriate policies in place that will expire content, or keep it, as needed," Kothari said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about this tool is that it's based on technology Microsoft acquired, rather than developed completely in-house. So, if you were expecting PST Capture to operate with underlying PowerShell commands, think again! Instead, PST Capture is based on intellectual property acquired from Red Gate Software. The Exchange team has developed it out and added features from customer requests and then tested it thoroughly both internally and externally through the Technology Adoption Program (TAP).
Exchange 2010 itself does have some ability to import PSTs. As Kothari said, "If you want to run the PowerShell cmdlets, they're obviously still available with Exchange 2010. The PowerShell cmdlet specifically is New-MailboxImportRequest. But this tool will allow you to run different capabilities. It's actually using the Outlook API layer, which also allows you to import directly into the cloud. It gives the tool a lot more flexibility."
So, for starters, you can perform your PST discovery and import operations from a GUI -- I know that fact alone will be a huge selling point for many admins. You can run manual imports or set up scheduled run times for off-hours that won't impact your users. The tool gives you the ability to use agents or run agentless. And the ability to import directly to Microsoft Office 365 or Exchange Online is certainly something you won't get with PowerShell, and is clearly a feature that plays well with Microsoft's overall focus on the cloud.
As you probably know, Exchange 2010 introduced the Personal Archives capability to Exchange mailboxes, which along with the much larger mailboxes now possible should eliminate the need for creating new PSTs. Now Microsoft is offering a free tool to help organizations find an eliminate PSTs that exist throughout their networks and on end-user PCs. "We're moving toward a world where PSTs are out-of-date, so we want to make sure we have tools in place that can move those technologies to the service [Exchange Online] and the server [Exchange 2010]."
If you're using Exchange Online, you can have unlimited storage, or effectively limitless mailboxes. As Kothari said, "It really takes the barrier away from loading PSTs into the cloud. You're not going to take up precious real estate in someone's mailbox because you know it's unlimited." The reason PSTs exist, basically, was to get around the limited quota on mailboxes on Exchange servers in the past.
"Seven, eight, nine years ago, people had a much smaller quota," Kothari said. "To minimize that, people stored things on their personal machines so they could refer to it at a later date and time. But nowadays as mailboxes, especially enterprise mailboxes, get larger and larger, the need for a personal folder or a PST isn't really there anymore."
So, whilst you might expect PSTs to disappear one day, with Microsoft no longer supporting the file format, there's apparently no immediate plan to axe them. "We're going to keep listening to customers and determine what the best pace forward is for our PST story," Kothari said. "At present with Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2010, they're still supported and they still work. Our strategy, obviously, is to make sure that people have a choice." But Kothari also stressed the importance of PST Capture as a piece of this evolving story: "Tools like this help alleviate some of those concerns about having PSTs and finding them in an organization."