Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: Greg Buckles. Published: 2011-03-07 09:31:51Format, images and links may no longer function correctly. I cannot count the times I have heard something along the lines of, “I just want to wave a magic wand and make all those bloody PSTs go away.” I heard it again just last week. At least this time the speaker was well along the actual process of migrating the email so that the PSTs could be disabled and done away with. You could use an email archive platform, Sharepoint, ECM system or even Exchange 2010 (just watch out for the storage balloon!) to manage and expire email designated as corporate records. Pick your poison, but you still have to deal with the years of accumulated email that your users have stashed in all those handy Personal Storage Table (.PST and .OST files). Many categorization technologies have promised to magically designate items as records and cull out all the dross. I have yet to see one deliver on real, heterogeneous legacy email outside of very structured environments where users already have to manage communications and documents. Typical corporate goals include the defensible destruction of non-essential email, central management/search of designated records and minimization of eDiscovery/infrastructure costs. I wanted to share some of my lessons learned from past PST elimination projects, both successful and the rescue attempts.


PSTs - Litigation Landmines

The successful PST migrations that I have supported generally relied on users to designate essential email records by moving them into retention folders, network shares or to tag emails/folders with retention categories. The first time I ran into this I thought, “They will never do it.” They will do it, but only if they are properly motivated, trained and clearly understand that they will lose all their email if they do not act. Several of my clients in regulated industries made the hard cost/risk decision to just archive everything and worry about retention/expiry down the road. This got rid of the PST files, but is only practical when the corporation has invested in a sharp litigation support team and culling technologies to manage the potential discovery burden.

Practice points for tackling an enterprise wide retention initiative:

  • ·         Minimum retention buckets – Just like reviewers, your users cannot consistently apply more than 7-10 retention categories. Five or fewer is optimal.
  • ·         Retention needs will vary by business unit – Build a process that adapts to the requirements of each business unit. Do not try to force users to use a global template when it does not fit their needs.
  • ·         Foldered vs. Sent/Deleted Buckets – Remember that a portion of your users makes no attempt to organize their email and relies entirely on desktop search tools like X1, Windows Search and others. It may be easy for users to categorize existing project folders, but there will be users who copied Sent and even Deleted folders into PSTs.
  • ·         Documented preservation of holds – Your users under active holds may need a separate collection pass to preserve the context and content before the migration. Only counsel can make the final call, but test any process so that you can defend it later.
  • ·         Start small – Pilot groups enable you to find the inevitable technical, documentation and user issues.
  • ·         Managers first – Use managers to determine the critical retention/business categories and default retention period for a business unit. Compliance will dramatically rise when users know that their boss has already migrated.
  • ·         Communicate early – Get ahead of the rumor mill. Clearly spell out the potential benefits. The message needs to come from a C-level executive sponsor.
  • ·         User vs. Shared record repositories – Do your users really need a ‘private’ record archive/repository? If emails are in fact corporate records, then why not make them accessible to all appropriate team members? This will really cut down on users stuffing personal email into the corporate archive.
  • ·         Scale up slowly – You cannot assume that your infrastructure can absorb the sudden dump of email. You should closely monitor the performance, storage and network impact of your pilot groups. The last thing that you want is to crash your email servers, overrun storage or slow the network to a crawl. Most record systems are architected for steady state ingestion (daily new records) rather than mass migration.
  • ·         Orphaned PSTs – Have a plan to locate, assess and process PSTs, MSGs, EMLs and other email containers that have no clear owner. Remember to check the contents against your master hold custodian list.
  • ·         Legacy addresses and formats – Test your retention repository to understand how it handles legacy distribution lists, old domains and other legacy format issues. Remember that Microsoft Active Directory groups have no memory of past members and so any distribution list expansion may be wrong.
  • ·          Privacy concerns – Your users WILL have personal email stashed in their PSTs. If they let it be expired, so much the better. But some will want to take a copy home or copy it up to their Gmail accounts. This is a potential security/compliance leak, but you want to provide a mechanism for users to save their baby pictures, medical records and get them OUT of the corporate system without letting trade secrets out.

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list. I hope that it got you thinking about the entire process and maybe start a good conversation about how to get rid of those pesky PSTs. Let’s hear your favorite gotchas and tricks to ease the elimination of the litigation landmines that litter corporations across America.

Litigation Landmines - PST Files

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