Microsoft PST Capture Tool (Part 1)

by [Published on 19 April 2012 / Last Updated on 19 April 2012]

In this article series the author will explore the new PST Capture Tool from Microsoft, starting with how it works, and the requirements and considerations to take.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

After some delay, but as promised, Microsoft finally released a new tool to help administrators in their fight against Outlook Personal Storage Table [PST] files: the PST Capture Tool. This tool, a new version of the acquired RedGate’s PST Import tool, makes it easier to search and discover PST files in the network and to import them back to an on-premise Exchange 2010 environment, to BPOS or to Office 365.

Why is this tool so important? Well, PSTs have become a problem for many organizations for several reasons:

  • They do not comply with e-mail retention policies;
  • They make electronic discovery, for legal purposes for example, very difficult if not impossible;
  • You cannot use Outlook Web App [OWA] to access them;
  • They are normally stored in user’s local drives which are not backed up. If the PST gets corrupted, which is very common, all its content might get lost;
  • If PSTs are in network drives, they still take valuable storage space, so might as well have them in Exchange;
  • They are rarely password protected, which means anyone with access to a PST, can read all its content;
  • Users keep creating more and more PST files so their mailboxes don’t go over quota because they don’t want to delete any e-mails.

Some administrators choose to completely block PSTs in Outlook so that users cannot create or use them. Although this is somewhat easy to do, you most probably will still have PSTs scattered across your network.

Although this tool helps you import PST files back into your Exchange environment, it will not do all the work for you... The biggest challenge will be end users. As we all know, they can be very cooperative or very stubborn and make an administrator’s life a living hell. You will have to talk to your users, explain what this process means, the advantages for them, what will change from their perspective and when (if!) it will happen.

There’s not much point going through all this work if after all is done, users start using PSTs again instead of their Exchange Personal Archive. As I mentioned, you might want to completely prevent users from using them by following the Planning for Messaging Records Management or Plan for compliance and archiving in Outlook 2010 TechNet articles. With the introduction of Personal Archives in Exchange 2010 and larger mailboxes now possible, is there really a need for PSTs especially, if you are using Office 365 where you have at least 25GB per mailbox? After all, PSTs were only created to get around the small quotas on mailboxes. Remember those 25MB mailboxes?

Tool Overview

The PST Capture tool is made of three components:

  • PST Capture Console: this is the interface administrators use to search for PSTs and import them into Exchange;
  • PST Capture Central Service: this service maintains a list of all the PSTs found by the tool and processes the data as it is imported into Exchange;
  • PST Capture Agent: these agents, installed throughout computers or servers in the organization, are responsible for the discovery of PSTs on the machines where they are installed. If requested, they will send PSTs to the host where the Central Service is installed so they can be imported.

For optimal operation, the Central Service and the Capture Console are part of the same installation package and should be installed on a dedicated computer, and with enough storage space to hold the PSTs to be imported. This computer is known as the PST Capture host computer.

The agents, which have their own installation package (an 86 or 64-bit MSI file), contact the Central Service every minute in order to check for configuration updates and for new pending tasks. We will perform an installation of the entire tool and see how to change this polling frequency in the second article of this series.

For example, when an administrator runs a PST search using the Console, a PST Search action is queued for the agent installed in the computers included in the search. After polling this information, the agents start scanning the local computer for PST files and return this information to the Central Service. If the administrator then decides to import one or more of these PST files, a PST Import action is queued for each of the agents in the computers where the PSTs are located. The agents will send the PST(s) to the Central Service which then logs on to the target mailbox and imports the data into it.

You can also manually specify file names of PSTs directly as a workaround to avoid the installation of the agent in computers. This is useful if you have PST files in a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, for example. You can use UPN shares as well as mapped network drives as we will see.

System Requirements

These are the requirements in order to use the tool:

  • Supported operating systems: Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista;
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 if importing PSTs to an on-premise environment;
  • Microsoft Office 365 or BPOS subscription if importing PSTs to Exchange Online;
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 or 3.5 Service Pack 1;
  • Microsoft Outlook 2010 x64 (required only on the PST Capture host computer);
  • Central Service account (permissions in the table below).

Permissions

As mentioned in System Requirements, a Central Service account is required. Its requirements depend on how you plan to use the tool. The following table, taken from the Microsoft documentation, provides the permissions required for each scenario:

Scenario

Permissions Required

Installing PST Capture/Agent

  • Local administrator privileges on the computer where you want to install the PST Capture Console or PST Capture agent.

Searching for PSTs

  • You must be logged on with local administrator privileges on the computer where you run the PST Capture Console.

Importing PSTs to Office 365

  • You must be logged on with local administrator privileges on the computer where you run the PST Capture Console;
  • The user account you specify on the Online Connection Settings tab of the PST Capture settings must be assigned the Organization Management role.

Importing PSTs to BPOS

  • You must be logged on with local administrator privileges on the computer where you run the PST Capture Console;
  • The user account you specify on the Online Connection Settings tab of the PST Capture settings must be an Exchange Online administrator account.

Importing PSTs to mailboxes in on-premise Exchange

  • You must be logged on with local administrator privileges on the computer where you run the PST Capture Console;
  • The user account that the PST Capture Central Service uses must be mailbox-enabled;
  • The user account that the PST Capture Central Service uses must be assigned the Public Folder Management role in your Exchange organization.

Importing PSTs to archive mailboxes in on-premise Exchange

  • You must be logged on with local administrator privileges on the computer where you run the PST Capture Console;
  • The user account that the PST Capture Central Service uses must be mailbox-enabled;
  • The user account that the PST Capture Central Service uses must be assigned the Organization Management role in your Exchange organization.

Table 1

Notice that you will not need Full Access nor Domain Admin rights for the service account!

However, although the Microsoft documentation says you need Organization Management permissions to import PSTs to archive mailboxes, I was able to do this with just Public Folder Management permissions on the service account...

In my case I created an account called svc_PSTCapture and made it a member of the Domain Users and Exchange Public Folder Administrators groups.

Network Considerations

When a PST file is imported to a mailbox, it is first copied from the client computer where the agent is installed into the PST Capture host computer and then imported into the mailbox. If importing to an on-premise mailbox, the data is sent through a Client Access server; if importing to Office 365 or BPOS, the data is sent directly to the Internet from the PST Capture host computer.

This means that the content of the PST file is copied twice across the network. Depending on its size and the number of PSTs being imported, this operation can have an impact on the network performance. Therefore, you might want to schedule a big import operation outside business hours as long as the client computers remain connected.

You might also want to ensure that the client computers where you are capturing data from have a good network connection to the PST Capture host computer and are not in a remote site connected using a slow WAN link. Pay special attention for your remote mobile users that connect to the network mainly using VPN.

Another aspect to consider is if you are using Database Availability Groups [DAG]. If you are importing PSTs to mailboxes that are part of a DAG, remember that the data will also get replicated across all members of the DAG (assuming each member has a copy of the database)! This will introduce even more load on the network... So be very careful or your fellow network administrators might not be that happy with you.

Overview

The following diagram shows the basic high-level communication process of the tool, from communicating with agents to importing the data into Exchange. It shows the tool communicating with clients that do not have an agent and with agents installed in other clients as well as importing data to an on-premise Exchange environment and directly to Exchange Online (Office 365 or BPOS):


Figure 1.1: PST Capture Tool Overview

Conclusion

In this article we had an overview on how the new PST Capture Tool works, and the requirements and considerations to take. In the next part we will look into how to install and configure it to work with an on-premise Exchange environment and Office 365.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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