How can I access remote Outlook archive files with no lag?
June 1, 2009 4:25 PM   Subscribe

How can I access remote Outlook archive files with no lag or easily back up (large) local Outlook archive files (PST) to the network?

My wife works from home, connecting to her office via a VPN. She runs XP Professional and Office 2003.

Her company imposes a 100MB cap on Outlook accounts. She has a fair amount of email traffic and many of the emails are pretty hefty in size: 1 > 10MB. The size isn't just attachments, it's also in-line images. She has to be very diligent in filing to an archive (pst) file to keep below the 100MB limit. The company's IT policy is that the archive pst files should be kept on the network--otherwise they won't be backed up of course.

We discovered that when she was accessing large emails in her inbox, there was a 10 or 20 second lag while the email downloaded from the server. I switched her Outlook to Cached Exchange Mode. That solved the lag and now she can browse her inbox when she's not on the VPN. Super.

The problem is her archive: because its file is on the network, she suffers the same lag and cannot access it offline. But there is no notion of cached mode for archive files (of which I am aware). Any solutions that would help her easily browse her archive folders?

My first thought is to keep the archive files local but back them up to the network once a day. But how to do this automatically and relatively quickly?

XP's Offline Files would help with working off-line but not the lag issue I think since it would require (I think) its path to be to the network file. Therefore when she's on the VPN it would, presumably, access the file on the network rather than the local copy. Furthermore, I suspect it backs up whole files, rather than just the changed sectors so would be a significant upload at the end of each day. (I would think a "changed sectors only" mechanism would need something running on the network server to manage incremental synchronization.)

(I've seen some related solutions here and here.)
posted by NailsTheCat to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Instead of VPN to run Outlook locally your wife should ask her IT dept to setup remote desktop for her so she can access her desktop at work. Now the data she is sending from the remote site are just screen refreshes and not 4 gigabyte PSTs.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:42 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Damn Dirty Ape beat me to it - use RDP.

Also, you can't use XP's Offline Files to synch PST files.
posted by benzenedream at 5:49 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. We'll ask whether they have RDP or Citrix available--but I'm not overbrimming with confidence. Also, that doesn't solve her working offline. The latest from her IT department is that she should get cable. They say that our ADSL (2 down / .5 up)
isn't up to it.

That Offline Line files article was interesting. It looks like we could use it providing it's not the main PST file since the archive files wouldn't be cached under a separate mechanism. It's good to know that PST files are excluded by default--I would have spent an age troubleshooting that I'm sure.
posted by NailsTheCat at 6:42 PM on June 1, 2009

Best answer: I've seen this same setup. My office has a similar structure, and we also struggle with this exact issue.

Outlook really doesn't have a good solution. In fact, last time I checked, MS recommends AGAINST storing pst files on a networked drive! My strong feeling is that disk space is cheap. Any organization that makes end users jump through hoops to archive mail, rather than leaving it on the server is a little cuckoo...nevertheless, we do have the struggle we do.

I would bet that while they may not allow RDP'ing to her desktop, they may have a terminal server (whether it's windows based or Citrix) and yes, even over dialup, a terminal setup is fairly manageable (assuming, of course, your VPN solution is solid!
posted by Richat at 7:09 PM on June 1, 2009

Yeah, I am aware that we're not talking about SATA drives in a home computer.

I still feel that the cost of end users unsuccessfully managing mail is MUCH higher. But, yeah I think we're agreed...this setup is silly.
posted by Richat at 7:31 PM on June 1, 2009

I would bet that while they may not allow RDP'ing to her desktop, they may have a terminal server (whether it's windows based or Citrix) and yes, even over dialup, a terminal setup is fairly manageable (assuming, of course, your VPN solution is solid!

I would push for RDP vs a terminal server in this scenario, because Outlook can't run in cached mode on a terminal server, which really inhibits rules processing.
posted by disclaimer at 7:39 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Interesting to hear you have the same problem Richat and that MS recommends against pst on network drives. Which explains why MS has provided the cached exchange mode--to get around this issue for the main outlook.pst--but not implemented this for archive files. My wife regularly finds her VPN hung, the archive file update interrupted and then has to wait 30min for Outlook to check the remote file's quality. It's crazy.

I do find this an odd, bandwidth hungry, employee time-sapping approach to email. My employer (far, far smaller and with little cash) provides 1GB of email with Citrix, web mail, https exchange etc.

Although, to odinsdreams point, perhaps it's because we have only 200 employees rather than thousands that we can afford to be so generous with diskspace.
posted by NailsTheCat at 7:41 PM on June 1, 2009

Best answer: I suggest to my users to keep their psts local for pretty much the same reasons (speed, offline access) all the time. Especially if they work remotely a lot. So if keeping the file locally isn't a Get In Trouble violation of policy, that really is your best bet.

As far as backing them up goes, every day to the network when you're working remotely is kinda excessive (again, unless policy says she has to.) I'd suggest buying a big thumb drive or a small hard drive and backing them up locally if you really must do it daily, and then copying the files to the network once a week/every couple of weeks, whatever. You could play around with Windows Backup and the Scheduled Tasks if automating it is really that important.
posted by Cyrano at 7:42 PM on June 1, 2009

That's the other annoying thing about PSTs too...because they are ONE GIANT file, great copying apps like robocopy, etc are not really helpful. Each backup of this massive amount of data is a copy of the ENTIRE massive amount. Sooo annoying. I do like the idea of a thumbdrive for remote users - a nice simple solution to the most common issue, the failure of the system's hard drive.
posted by Richat at 7:58 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: I agree with your solution, Cyrano. Even if we get super fast cable to replace the ADSL (we can charge it to the company) it means she's scuppered when travelling.

So yes: we'll buy an external drive and back up daily. I was thinking about writing a wee app but a scheduled task and batch file would be simpler.

Thanks all.
posted by NailsTheCat at 8:19 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Follow up for future readers:

(1) The Knowledge Base article to which Richat referred in which Microsoft explain why PST over a LAN (let alone a WAN!) is not supported: KB217019.

(2) An relevant technet article.

(3) From the comments on that article, a possible solution: an MS Add-In that is supposed to back up your local files.
posted by NailsTheCat at 10:11 PM on June 1, 2009

Hey, thanks for the summary Nails!

We just got to talking about this issue again today and I was able to come back here to find even MORE info.
posted by Richat at 11:46 AM on June 2, 2009

Response by poster: You're welcome. BTW, I installed the MS Add-In on my laptop to see how it is. Essentially it allows you to select a back-up frequency and, for each archive file you have, a destination to back it up to.

So that's quite useful and I'll probably set her up with that. But note that it runs upon Outlook exit--so presumably can only run when the file is unlocked.

Since there are ways to copy locked files, plus I would rather copy to a new filename incorporating the backup date than always use the same name, I might try something smarter when I get a chance (i.e. never).
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:24 PM on June 2, 2009

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