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4 Effective Outlook Backup Methods

Tags: backup software · backup solutions · network backup · Outlook backup

Let’s analyze the Outlook backup alternatives of the regular Outlook user. By a regular user, I mean the majority that uses Outlook at home or as part of a small local network. What is the best Outlook backup solution and why?

First of all, I don’t think I should debate around the entire Outlook backup idea. Your mailbox stores your emails, while your emails for sure store sensitive information (from web passwords to documents). Add the fact that your Outlook mailbox file or even your hard disk may get corrupted for a variety of reasons… So backing-up Outlook is a must-have.

Basically, there are 4 ways to backup your Outlook data:

1. Local backup using an Outlook backup software

A local backup may be the fastest & cheapest solution – for example you can use the free Outlook backup tool provided by Microsoft. Yeap, it’s free and it works with Outlook 2002/2003/2007 – it will probably be supported by Outlook 2010 too. You can schedule the backup and the backup program will only update the existing backup file with the newly added items (it will not re-save the entire mailbox file, each time when a backup is done). You may even opt for a general Windows backup program (search Google for plenty of free/cheap backup solutions for Outlook / Windows).

However, doing a local backup is somehow against the hole backup concept: there is little use in saving a backup on your local disk, because most likely if you need to restore an Outlook backup it is due to the failure of your local disk – so if your hard disk or computer dies, you have no Outlook backup file to restore neither. Indeed, you can use RAID mirrored disks in order to protect yourself against hard disk failures, but it may get costly if you have multiple computers. And you can only add mirrored disks to desktop computers, leaving your notebook(s) or mobile devices unprotected.

Pros: fast, free backup solution;

Cons: a safe backup file should not be located on the same computer from which the backup was generated.

2. Server sided backup

Server sided email backups aren’t very common for home/small office use, because on these cases the user does not have access on the mail server itself in order to perform the backup. For example, if you’re using a webmail service like Gmail or Yahoo Mail or if you have your own domain hosted on a shared server, you will not be able to obtain access on the mail server itself. However, if you are running your own mail server, a server sided backup may be the right solution, because you can backup all email accounts at once without consumming hardware resources or bandwidth on the user’s computer(s).

For this solution, probably the best scenario is to use Outlook as an email client for a Microsoft Exchange mail server. By doing so, you can configure your Outlook profile to share its data with the server, meaning that you can use an Exchange backup process to backup not only your emails, but also your other Outlook data such as Contacts, distribution lists, tasks, calendar items, etc.  Microsoft Exchange is a database driven application, so a server sided Exchange/Outlook backup is practically a database backup. Moreover, an Exchange server is usually installed on a Microsoft Windows Server platform, so you can use the built-in NTBackup tool that offers full support for Exchange backups. More about Exchange backups via NTBackup.

Pros: the backup is done at the server level, so it will not consume any hardware/software resources or disk space on your local computer; one backup task can include several email accounts; you don’t need to keep your computer running while the backup is performed;

Cons: you need access on the machine where the mail server runs, plus some server administration knowledge; the backup process may slow down that mail server; the backup will only contain your emails and not your Outlook Tasks, Calendar, Contacts, etc  – unless you’re using Microsoft Exchange as a mail server.

3. Online backup service

I see more and more online backup services available on the Internet. Some ask you to manually specify what PST files to backup (upload on the backup server), some offer a client application that works as a regular backup tool. If you want to use an online backup service, try to use one that offers the ability to syncronize your local mailbox file with your Outlook backup file. Otherwise, if you deal with many emails, you will have to upload a very large file to the backup server, each time when you schedule an Outlook backup. Unless the backup server is located close to you (so you can use a high speed metropolitan access network), the backup will likely take a lot of time (imagine you have to upload 2-3 Gb of data each time when you do an Outlook backup…). As a result, I think Outlook syncronization features are a must-have function for a smooth Outlook online backup service. I do not use such a backup solution for Outlook, but here is one that promises to deliver the right solution:

Pros: most online backup providers offer bullet-proof backup hardware solutions, so you don’t have to worry that your backup media will fail; the Outlook backup file will not consume space on your hard disk(s);

Cons: the backup will likely slow down *a lot* your Internet connection speed, while your Outlook backup is uploaded to the server. Maybe, as Internet connections tend to get faster & faster, it will become “the backup solution”. However, you do have to worry about what will happen with your backup data, if the online backup provider goes out of business.

* While I was documenting for this article, I bookmarked a site that was a good example of such an online Outlook backup service: at the time when this article went public, that site was not accessible anymore (so I’ve erased its link). Just to show how volatile such services may be…

4. Local network Outlook backup

A local network Outlook backup solution is pretty much similar with an online backup, except that:

– the backup data is saved on your local network: the data is uploaded much faster, the backup process is finalized quicker;

– the Outlook backup files are located on your local network, within your reach even if your Internet connection would fail.

There are plenty of alternative products when it comes to such backup solutions. My personal choice is a network storage system: it is basically a mini-computer, equipped with fail-safe hard disks (usually mirrored), a network card and delivered with a backup software license. Their prices vary a lot, mainly depending on the hard disks size, performance & number. For example, such a solution offered by Western Digital, called WD ShareSpace (2 TB of hard disk space, 2 mirrored hard disks) can be purchased for $500:

Western Digital ShareSpace Backup for Outlook

Western Digital ShareSpace - Backup Solution for Outlook

The Western Digital solution is delivered with a licensed version of the Memeo Backup software that has the ability to syncronize your current Outlook data with previous Outlook backups. As it is installed as a local network location, you can easily configure it to perform automatic Outlook backups from all computers of your local network. The Memeo Backup software can also be used to backup any kind of file (not just Outlook data) and it has the ability to upload the files to other locations (web servers included), not just to the Western Digital ShareSpace device.

Pros: out-of-the-box backup solution; works for multiple computers at the same time; can be applied for any kind of backup, not just for Outlook backups; it’s safe and it’s on your local network.

Cons: it’s probably the most expensive solution in terms of up-front payment. However, if you do the math, such a backup hardware will likely last for years, but it’s up-front cost is about the same as you would pay for an online backup service in 1-2 years… so on the long term, an online backup solution will likely cost you more.

Conclusion: any of the above Outlook backup methods can be the right one for you, depending on your setup & budget. For a long time, I used to make backups of my Outlook data and save them to another hard disk… until that disk failed. Then I started to manually create backups of my Outlook PST files by copying the PST files and recording them to DVDs. After a period, I ended up with a pretty large set of dusted DVDs. Sometimes I forgot that I had to do the backup. Sometimes I couldn’t find the latest Outlook backup. So it was becoming a real nuissance. Now my personal choice is the local network backup solution, because it’s fully automated & independent from my local computer, it allows me to keep the backup from all computers in the same place and it doesn’t consume my Internet bandwidth.

Bottom line, if you are not severely limited by your budget, I would suggest to use a local network hardware backup solution. Otherwise, if your Internet connection speed is very good and if you are not worried about saving your Outlook backup data to a 3rd party location, an online backup service would do the trick. If you don’t want to invest too much money and if you’re not so keen to deposit your email data online, a local backup software solution would be the right one. But at least consider using a backup software that can syncronize your Outlook data with your latest Outlook backup. And, just to stay on the safe side, try saving the Outlook backup to a mirrored set of hard disks. If one fails, you will still be able to restore the data from the other one.

By the way, just to show how fast backup solutions change in time, I found a nice article on the Microsoft Office web site, describing Outlook 2000 backup methods… one of the backup solutions was to backup your Outlook data to floppy disks 😛

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1 comment

  • Outlook Backup · August 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I think a combination of server as well as client side Outlook backup solution gives the best results in terms of setup as well as management.

    This is even more important when corporate emails needs to be backed up and managed.

    Good info in your post.

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