Today’s announcement that the Microsoft Exchange development group plans to release a tool to allow administrators to discover Personal Storage (PST) files on a network and then import the data into Exchange 2010 on-premises servers or Exchange Online (Office 365) left a couple of unanswered questions floating. Don’t get me wrong. I hate PST files as I think they are the work of the devil – unstable, unprotected, and out of control. It’s an area of the Exchange/Outlook product combination that has needed attention for years and it’s surprising that Microsoft has taken so long to make a move in this direction, some two years after the launch of Exchange 2010 and the introduction of online archive mailboxes.
The first question that comes to mind is exactly when will Microsoft release the tool? There’s no firm date in the announcement, just “later this year“. Maybe it will be a Christmas gift.
Second, what will be Microsoft’s added value over the proven PST ingestion tools that companies such as Transvault and Sherpa Software have developed over many years? The cynic in me says that the added value will come through the zero dollar value price point, which is fine as far as it goes and certainly better than the current situation. However, it’s also fair to say that third-party software vendors have invested a great deal of intellectual capital in their products and that they deserve your attention and support in terms of investigation before you assume that any software written by Microsoft to perform a particular task will automatically be the best. Some testing of available PST ingestion tools in your own environment is therefore required to identify whether, for instance, one tool is more automated than another or whether one allows greater flexibility in terms of deciding what data should be ingested, ideally through easy-to-understand and easy-to-deploy policy settings that can truly unearth PSTs lurking on PCs scattered around the enterprise.
I’m sure that Microsoft will avoid the trap of providing a tool that makes it too easy to ingest vast quantities of PSTs without some control. There’s no point in ingesting tens of gigabytes of absolute crap from user PSTs into an online mailbox database just because you can…
Automation is a big thing for me when I look at tools that are designed to help administrators and is particularly valuable if the software saves time. Remember that time is money and a paid-for automated tool that saves an Exchange administrator a lot of time is so much better in the long run than something that’s free and does a basic job.
Of course, I’m writing this without any idea whatsoever of the functionality that Microsoft will bring to the table and it is entirely possible that they will deliver a fantastic automated all-singing and all-dancing PST ingestion tool that allows administrators to sit back, admire, and watch the gigabytes flowing into mailbox databases. If this is the case then I have another concern and that is why Microsoft is investing time in tools like this that eliminates an area covered by third-party software vendors when there are other areas that they could deliver real value in, such as figuring out the long-term future for public folders.
Microsoft can rightly say that they are simply answering customer concerns and that’s a fair and valid statement. Microsoft can also say that competition spurs progress and that the third-party software vendors will increase the feature/functionality set in their products to stay ahead of the free tool. I hope this is true but I do worry when the elephant in the Exchange market threatens to squash some of the smaller players who have helped to make Exchange such a success.
Last, what does Microsoft mean when it refers to “pirate growl” when it mentions the “dreaded PST scourge” in the blog post? I think I understand the aforementioned scourge to mean the uncontrolled sprawl of potentially valuable information held in the worst-secured file format on the face of the planet, but I am baffled at the reference to pirate growl.
Lots to think about – and I look forward to investigating just how well Microsoft’s PST ingestion tool works when it is released to the public.