With Exchange 2010 Microsoft introduced a Personal Archives capability to Exchange mailboxes, which along with the much larger mailboxes eliminated the need for creating new PSTs. It was a while after the release of Exchange 2010 – in fact not until 2012, that Microsoft provided PST Capture, a free tool, to help organizations find, migrate and eliminate PSTs that exist throughout their networks and on end-user PCs.
Since it is provided at no cost, many try to leverage PST Capture and divert the funds they might spend for a third party tool to other aspects of their migration.
Is this a short-sighted decision? Let’s look at the support aspect to answer that question.
PST Capture is an unsupported tool
PST Capture is fairly-well documented, and whilst few major bugs have been reported, it is widely acknowledged as having limitations. Messaging and network specialists all agree with the assessment that the tool is only appropriate for limited or tightly controlled migrations. No version of Exchange Server prior to 2010 is supported so anyone hoping to migrate PSTs from 2003 or 2007 will run into immediate problems trying to use PST Capture.
PST Capture is freeware, and as such is not eligible for Microsoft support. In fact, Microsoft engineers aren’t trained on it, either – so there are no support options.
Is support an issue for migrating PSTs? The answer is yes, for the same reasons that no two Exchange environments are totally identical. There can be an infinite number of different environments so a flexible tool that can accommodate them all is vital. PST Capture is an out-of-the-box tool designed for a basic Exchange installation (which is the exception for larger enterprises where the PST problem is the most significant) and there is little, if any, documentation on how to adjust the tool to handle complicated Exchange environments.
The problem that many companies encounter is, having built their migration plans and budgets on PST Capture, they miss both their timeframes and budget targets when they have to stop their migration and deploy a third-party tool. As any IT organization will tell you, time is money.
Users are impacted as well
Key to PST Capture is an agent which must be installed on every end user desktop before the tool can find and migrate PST data.
Because the tool is unsupported, so is the agent. While IT organizations go to great lengths to standardize desktops and the software being run on them, there are always exceptions. In larger companies, those exceptions can represent hundreds of users – each of which is going to require direct support from IT as there is no support from Microsoft.
What happens when it doesn’t work?
For smaller users in standard environments, PST Capture has proved a worthwhile alternative. For larger companies, this is not the case – hence continued questions to companies like Barracuda who’s PST Enterprise offers a more powerful, licensed tool.
What happens when a tool like PST Capture fails? If the organization is lucky, they will not get beyond configuration issues and will choose a different route than PST Capture. If the tool only partially works, then the headache can become a nightmare.
PST Capture can fail for a number of reasons: Not only is it extremely slow and requires client software install, some of the other limitations which make the tool incredibly time and labor intensive include manual discovery by location, unable to process PST files open in Outlook, no scanning of network shares, manual identification of orphaned PST files and manual disconnect and deletion of PST files from the user’s outlook profile.
A safer choice is a licensed, third party migration tool
Third party migration tools such as PST Enterprise are designed to overcome these limitations as well as to scale to the needs of larger migrations. In two recent product reviews of PST Enterprise, both reviewers concluded that the features and capabilities of this third party tool far and above outweigh the benefits of the free PST Capture tool.
“… the drawbacks of Microsoft's free PST Capture Tool and the multitude of additional features – and distributed migration approach make PST Enterprise a product that should be top of your list for evaluation.”
Steve Goodman, Exchange MVP
“Microsoft's PST Capture 2.0 may be free but it pales into insignificance when compared with the features, capabilities and reporting tools offered by PST Enterprise.”
Network Computing Magazine
The cost of licensing a third-party tool is easily justified – it will save precious IT labor hours and speed migrations. If you’re migrating to Office 365, you need to establish a migration budget anyway, so identifying and including a third-party tool should be your first step.
Third-party tools such as PST Enterprise will have a positive impact on other migration activities, such as temporary storage and bandwidth considerations, and since it’s supported, IT departments won’t be troubleshooting in the dark when their PST migrations encounter any snags.