Want to back up Outlook? Then lookout...

by David L Moore

I've been using Microsoft Outlook for quite some years. It has features I need and like to use. For me it is much more than just an email program.

For me Outlook is a CRM — it stores all my clients, appointments, notes, tasks, calendar entries and correspondence. It is also my personal data store and my email hub for about 10 different email accounts. My whole life is managed by Outlook appointments and To-Do items. My wife and I even co-ordinate our work and social life through Outlook, our diaries are just that mad.

So it is clear that this data must be safely backed up and be easily recoverable when the disaster comes (not "if").

I have to be frank though, backing Outlook up can be a total pain.

Why backing up Outlook is a total pain?

Nearly all of the things you do and store in Outlook are kept in one place — the Outlook.PST file. Sometimes your older data is also stored in an Archive.PST folder and if you are a power user or a longer term user you may have more PST files besides.

The PST files can get very big. The main PST file is kept open the whole time Outlook is running and often Outlook runs in the background without your knowledge.

Big open files are difficult to backup and most backup software doesn't try all that hard in this area.

So just how do you backup your precious Outlook data?

Fortunately there are some nice options that you may find useful.

Firstly, Microsoft themselves provide a free program called pfbackup (personal folders backup) . This program plugs into Outlook. It makes copies of the PST files at regular intervals of your choice when you shut down Outlook. I have used it for years. It is simple and works 99% of the time. However, if you turn off your computer immediately after exiting Outlook, then this program isn't for you. This practice will interrupt and corrupt the pfbackup process.

A nice free manual tool I've found is MailStore Home. MailStore will backup a number of different email sources above and beyond Outlook. The nice thing about MailStore is that you don't need Outlook to look at or recover you backed up emails. MailStore doesn't just make a copy of your emails, it creates its own new database. This often makes the backup a deal smaller and it means you can migrate emails from one program to another with it. MailStore's primary limitation is that it is ONLY an email backup. The rest of your Outlook data is left untouched and not backed up. Its second limitation is the fact that you have to run it — it isn't automatic in any way.

A program that seems to overcome both pfbackup's and MailStore's limitations is a program called Safe PST Backup. This clever free program can and will backup all your PST files in the background while you are using Outlook. This means you don't have to think to hard when you exit Outlook and all your data is being backed up. Very cool!

Of course making copies of your PST files is only a small part of the backup battle. There's no point having multiple copies of your PST file on the one machine. You need to get the files off-site and somewhere safe.

Make sure you put your data copies where they'll be picked up by your off-site backup system (you do have a proper off-site backup strategy right?).

If you are thinking of cloud-based backup systems it is worth noting that most purposely avoid backing up the Outlook PST files for the reasons already mentioned.

However, there is one I know of that handles this without any drama. Remote Data Back Ups will backup your Outlook data while you are using it. RDBU uses some smart technologies that mean they only need to send small amounts of data to the cloud to keep your PST files completely backed up. RDBU isn't free but it does what the others can't. You can, however, get a free trial of the system through I Hate My PC.

Of course Google has some options for getting your Outlook email, contacts, calendar entries and tasks up to your Google Apps account. Doing it free with Google is a little tricky, so I won't try to explain it here, but it can be done. However Google have an all-in-one synchronisation program for their Apps Business Edition. This of course comes at a price, but this price is relatively small compared to the cost of total data loss. You should talk to your computer person before using Google Apps Sync.

Backups are more than essential, they are critical to your life and business. But when backups are painful they don't get done. Now I've left you with no excuse not to backup your Outlook data, so get on with it!

started I Hate My PC in 2006 with the aim of making everyday computer and technology experiences more pleasant. He’s been in the business for over 25 years and has experience across all areas of computing. He’s also written many articles for the industry over that time.
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