Q: Is there a way users can easily back up their own PSTs?

A: Microsoft has an add-in utility to let individual users back up their Personal Folders (i.e., .pst files) from within Microsoft Outlook. The tool, Pfbackup, was originally intended for Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2002, but it works fine with Outlook 2007, and with some configuration, it can work with Outlook 2010 as well.

The add-in is a small, 160KB download with a simple installation. You can download the utility from the Microsoft Download Center: Personal Folders Backup. As Figure 1 shows, the installation interface shows "Microsoft Office Update"; however, this shouldn't be confused with the Microsoft Update process. You can install the add-in with Outlook running, but you'll need to restart Outlook to load the new utility.

Figure 1: The installation interface for Pfbackup

If you didn't already have an add-in installed for Outlook 2010, you'll now have a new tab on your Outlook Ribbon called Add-Ins. Other Microsoft add-ins will create this tab as well, such as the Bing Travel Add-In for Outlook (see "Q: How Do I Install and Use the Bing Travel Add-In for Outlook 2010?"). Pfbackup didn't create a nice icon for the Ribbon in my tests, but the word Backup on the Ribbon is itself the button. Launching the Pfbackup add-in opens a simple interface, as shown on the left side of Figure 2. Clicking Options opens the configuration window you can see on the right side of Figure 2.
Pfbackup_Options_Fig2sm_0Figure 2: Assigning backup details in the Backup Options window (click image for larger view)

You can set Pfbackup to back up multiple .pst files, and you can control the location of the backups through the interface. In Figure 2, you can see the File location section at the bottom of the Backup Options window. For Outlook 2010 on Windows 7, by default, backups will reside in \Users\\Documents\Outlook Files\. You can back up .pst files with a quality, uninterrupted connection to a remote network location. You can configure Pfbackup to remind you to back up your .pst files after a certain number of days, ranging from 1 to 60. If you enter a number greater than 60, the add-in uses the maximum reminder interval of 60 days. The default reminder interval is 7 days.

After the accounts for backup are selected and their backup destinations assigned, you can then click OK on the Backup Options window and the Save Backup button to set Pfbackup. You'll then see the dialog box that Figure 3 shows, which states that the backup is performed when you exit Outlook.
Pfbackup_dialog_Fig3_0Figure 3: Dialog box on completion of setting backup options

It's important that you don't shut down your workstation immediately after exiting Outlook if you have a backup operation configured. Pfbackup doesn't provide a comprehensive interface identifying the progress of its operation. It doesn't show anything at all indicating that the backup has even started or finished. If you have a large .pst file to back up, leave the workstation on long enough to allow that file to be copied. For instance, a 2GB .pst file might take 15 minutes to backup. The efficiency of Pfbackup depends on workstation performance, especially disk I/O operations, because Pfbackup is for the most part a file copy service.

There are a few catches to using Pfbackup in Outlook 2010. First, Pfbackup is a 32-bit add-in and won't work with 64-bit Outlook 2010. Second, Pfbackup copies Personal Folders immediately after Outlook is shut down. Microsoft has made changes in Outlook in response to user feedback that allow Outlook to close more efficiently; as a result, in Outlook 2010 the Pfbackup add-in doesn't automatically execute as with previous versions. A registry entry is required for Pfbackup to initiate when the user exits Outlook 2010. A value of 1 needs to be assigned to a new DWORD entry named RequireShutdownNotification at HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\Outlook\Addins\Microsoft.OutlookBackup.1, as Figure 4 shows.
Pfbackup_registry_Fig4sm_0Figure 4: Setting a registry value for RequireShutdownNotification for Outlook 2010 (click image for larger view)

Outlook needs to be restarted for it to load this new registry change. Lastly, Pfbackup doesn't work when you have an English version of Office installed on an Asian version of Windows.

Pfbackup essentially copies the .pst files, adding "backup" to the file name. You could, of course, manually back up your Personal Folders, but for some users, a simple interface within the application is more effective than navigating (or allowing users to navigate) to the default hidden folder housing the .pst files. If you have users that maintain .pst files, this might be an option to empower them to assume responsibility for that content.

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