A simple way to backup your email archive

It’s not your Amex card, but you don’t want to leave home/work without it.

For many of us, losing an email archive ranks as one of the most disruptive events to our daily routine at work. I don’t use email as my main information storage for documents, tasks, and workflows. But I know from experience that many of the internal users that I serve have most of their everyday document, message, and customer interaction stored in email. They expect email to be available on-demand and to be reliable for archive and historical reference.

Why is it important for to keep the mailbox under a certain size?

So what’s the big deal about size of your email mailbox? Are the IT guys just creating an unnecessary inconvenience in your life when they enforce a mailbox size quota? Here’s the scoop. Some of the rationale for the policy is based on historical thinking when disk space was much more expensive. In 2000 the cost per gigabyte of storage was around $6-10 dollars. Today we spend less than forty cents per gigabyte depending on type of storage we buy. There still isn’t an infinite amount of disk space to carve out for email. But you get the point.

Last week I wrote about how to rethink email attachments. That advice is centered on habits to avoid duplicate files and versioning issues in workflow. But managing email attachments wisely also helps to keep the overall size of the email mailbox in-check.

The bigger reason that we still need to limit the size of mailboxes is that it can impact performance of the system. For a messaging platform like email it’s not so much the size but the number of items in a folder that can start to impact performance. The speed of results for the tasks that we perform on an email folder (viewing, sorting, and searching) depends on the number of objects in the folder.

The role of your email archives and how to make sure they are always there.EmailArchive

To avoid being in email jail for exceeding the size threshold most users will use the built-in function to archive emails to another data file. Email programs like Outlook have a wide variety of options for archiving including recurring schedules.  The archive is accessible from within email to make access easier.

But there’s a problem. Most people put their email archives on their local PC disk so that they have access to them even if they are not connected directly to the corporate network (and because that is the default location for the program to create the file). If the local drive crashes and there is no backup then the email archive is lost. Ouch!

A simple solution for backing up your email archive.

Please Note: This is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to setup this solution. I’ll describe a simple process that you can follow with moderate PC skills. If you need assistance doing this then consult with your favorite IT guy. They’ll be happy to learn that you are thinking about how to backup your email archive file. 🙂 Oh and one more thing, I’m referencing the concept with Windows terms. If you use a Mac the concept is the same but the locations and programs may vary slightly.

If you use a PC that never leaves the office and is always connected to the network then you could move your archive to a network drive. We had some issues with this at my office based on some technical stuff about how archives work and the way we replicate data. So here’s an alternative:

  1. Create a file called CopyArchive.bat and place it somewhere on your local drive. The contents of my CopyArchive.bat file are:

echo Copying Archive.pst Script
echo Please close Outlook
echo Begin file copy
copy /Y c:\users\<your user directory>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\archive.pst h:\outlook

Please note:

* My archive is named archive.pst.  Your archive name and location may differ. You can find them in Outlook under File → Info → Account Settings → Data Files

* My network location is the H drive in a folder called outlook. Your network location is specific to where you want to copy the backup.

  1. Go to the Start menu in Windows and type “task scheduler”. Select and start the Windows Task scheduler.
  1. Create a task that runs the Archive.bat file weekly. For me I have the task setup with the action “Start a program” and details “cmd /C <c:\programs\CopyArchive.bat>”


That’s it. All you’re doing is creating a weekly job to copy for archive file(s) to the network. When the job runs it will prompt you to close Outlook so that it has access to the file and can copy it. Do this and be worry free about losing that email to Murphy and his law.

Onward and Upward!