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On the importance of Microsoft Outlook backups

Background

Microsoft Outlook is a common e-mail/calendar/contact/task management application used across academia, governments, and the private sector. Data from this application are critically important for running a research program and collaborating with other researchers. Outlook’s permanent record of all correspondence can be invaluable for reviewing past communications and remembering what was decided along a project’s timeline.

Given the central importance of written communication in our personal and professional lives, having a backup of these data is critical to preserving historical communications. Backups are especially important if your organization manages its own exchange server that could be subject to malware or has a limited retention policy where data are deleted after a set period. In either of these cases, your own Outlook backups could be the only record of all your historical communications and contacts.

Fortunately, Outlook makes it easy to export all your e-mail, contacts, and calendars downloaded to your computer via the export feature. Once you have the exported your data to a .pst file, you can reimport the file into Outlook to keep access to your data if your organization has a limited retention period. It’s also judicious to back up your .pst files to an online backup service or an external hard drive to protect from malware, fire, or theft.

Recommendations

  • Periodically export your Outlook data to a .pst file using the export feature.
  • Back up your .pst files to an external drive or online backup service like Backblaze or iDrive.
  • If you can afford the disk space on your local drive, change the Outlook cache to retain all data from the email server. If the cache is set to anything other than all, Outlook data downloaded locally to your computer will not be a full copy of what’s available in the cloud.

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