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Microsoft’s new Intelligent Import for PSTs

Apr 13, 2017 by Mike Weaver

Importing and migrating PST files into Office 365 is a multi-step process, and like many tasks with more than one step – there are plenty of places where things can go wrong. That’s why it’s great to hear about any new releases that give us more options, or just make the whole thing easier to do.Microsoft’s recent enhancements to their PST import functionality enable administrators to control which content gets ingested according to certain filters, including:

  • The age of the item, e.g. you could choose to import data that is less than five years old.
  • Message class, the options are: Calendar, contact, email, IM, and other classes.
  • Messages sent to, or received by, specific people.

We haven’t talked about Microsoft’s PST Import Service in a little while, and given the changes happening here, it’s worth reviewing again. Once your PST files have been found and centralized – which in itself is one of the most challenging, and frustrating steps in the process – then you can use the Import Service to bring the data into Office 365. The import requires an engineer to either upload the PST files they wish to ingest to an Azure storage location, or ship them on a hard drive to Microsoft.  Using a mapping file created by the administrator, combined with the new Intelligent Import feature, these files are then analyzed, and ingested into the user’s mailbox.

The offering is a great option for smaller organizations to get their PST data into Office 365, and at this scale, the functionality works well and the amount of PST data going through the import process is usually manageable. When organizations are trying to determine if they can use this service, or whether they might need the additional support and capabilities of a third-party tool, I generally draw the line at 1000 users or less.  Organizations larger than this, or those that are highly regulated, will find they need something more advanced to take on the other challenges of a PST Eradication project.

Here are some of the biggest challenges to a PST migration project:

  • The largest challenge is identifying the owner of the PST files. The files tend to be scattered across multiple locations, including local machines, shared drives and personal devices, making them incredibly difficult to find and gather.  Identifying the owner of each file is not straight forward and can be quite difficult, particularly on shared network drives.
  • The process of collecting the files, cleaning up Outlook profiles, and controlling the user experience is difficult. PSTs are very personal to a user, therefore any interruption can be deeply impactful. Often, we’ll hear of organizations that actually stop these projects, either temporarily or permanently, if these issues are not mitigated.
  • The import process from your environment to Office 365, using native functionality, can be quite slow. Since PST files traditionally need to be disconnected to be imported, this slowness adds to the time a user is without their PSTs.

The great news is that Microsoft continues to improve their solution, so that it further solves this third issue (speeding up the import of files). Small organizations, and those without heavy regulations, might be able to manage these other two issues using careful planning and execution.  As always, this should be paired with proper communication ensuring that their end users are informed and supported throughout the process.

Filtering is a commonly requested feature and is something that we have built into both our Archive Migration product and our PST Eradication product. Interestingly, in our experience, we’ve found that while this feature is highly requested, it is actually rarely used.  In a lot of cases, we’ve seen that when these migration projects are combined with a retention project, both end up stalling mid-project.  Most users cannot accept both changes at once. Some organizations are able to do this, and for those that can, this feature is a great addition.

In my experience, I’ve found that it’s more popular (and beneficial) for organizations to enable a retention tag at import, and then run their retention project second after the migration project.  This allows the organization to get control of their files, and then expire the data with a different initiative.  Some may find they grandfather in PST files all together at import and use the new retention policies going forward.

In summary, this intelligent import enhancement is a great expansion for the PST service, and it will be interesting to hear the feedback when people start using it.  For organizations with less than 1000 users, it adds another commonly requested feature to the tool set. That said, these solutions are never ‘one size fits all’, many organizations may not find it helpful with nearly unlimited data sizes and user demands to keep all their data during a migration.

Are you in the process of eradicating PST files in your organization? The Complete Guide to Eradicating PST Files provides an overview of why PSTs are so popular, the issues that this popularity creates for companies and email administrators, and the process that can be used to locate, fix, and migrate PST data to Office 365.

Want to find out more about the challenges of dealing with Shared PST files during a migration or clean-up project? Why not take a look at our Investigative Toolkit for Shared PSTs? The white paper explores the remedial actions a company could take to tackle this issue, and demonstrates some practical processes to successfully determine targets for the data..