Outlook tip: Stop fighting PST fires

Storing PST files on network drives almost always leads to dramatic loss of data, usually because of improper backup processes.

by James E. Gaskin -- Today's Outlook tips come from Robert Sparnaaij, co-author of Configuring Microsoft Outlook 2003 and voice of the popular HowTo-Outlook Web site that answers Outlook question after Outlook question. Ever wonder what all the icons mean? Here's a handy dictionary of Outlook icons.

Sparnaaij's first tip, and what he considers most important, is for admins to actually go and talk to the users they support. This will ultimately save them time by encouraging the user community to respond faster to IT requests and be more tolerant of downtime.

[ See also: 13 Productivity-boosting Outlook utilities ]

Do you struggle with PST files? You're not alone. Sparnaaij calls managing PST files for lots of users "true hell." You break roaming if you store them on local drives, but you shouldn't store them on network drives. Large company techs fight one to three PST fires per day. Investing in a proper server-side archiving solution that allows you to disable the use of PST files will earn back the investment quite quickly. In addition, compliance regulators will be thrilled. Try to grab some of the compliance budget to make this happen.

Storing PST files on network drives almost always leads to dramatic loss of data, usually because of improper backup processes. While many backup tools today handle PST files when opened, not all do. When that happens, and the PST file needs rebuilding, dig out the recovery tools and get to work.

Laptop users who are regularly on the road are the only group that should have local PST files. Even then, corporate archive needs demand proper backup when the laptops return home to the company network.

Don't use Outlook as a collaborative application. Connect groups via shared folders, public folders, and SharePoint when they need to work together, or get a real collaboration framework application.

Delegate group and distribution list management to managers of departments, their assistants, or Human Resources. While this looks like the lazy way to administrate, having IT techs handle all these issues gobbles their entire day in larger companies. Besides, rights management details are decided within the department, and they can most quickly implement those changes and access groupings. As a bonus, support calls will drop, and the mutations can be done via the Outlook Address Book.

Those still puzzled because Outlook doesn't allow you to receive mail from a person, read it, and have it go the designated folder afterwards will appreciate a new feature in Outlook 2010. The Quick Steps feature allows you to string together multiple commands and execute them via a single button, or up to nine keyboard shortcuts.

Some of Sparnaaij's Top 10 Best Practices for Outlook include training users to shut down Outlook before shutting down their PC so the PST or OST database files have a chance to close. The shutdown process often doesn't wait long enough for Outlook to close gracefully, and if the files slam shut, you get a support call. Make it a regular habit to check PST files with Microsoft's scanspst.exe program. Remind users to right click a new address and choose "Add to Outlook Contacts" to make sure they keep it. The AutoSuggest feature stores files in an nk2 file, not the contacts database.

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