How to archive your way out of ‘zombie data’ nightmare

In the entertainment world, zombies are portrayed as hordes of mute flesh-hungry ‘undead’ threatening human lives.

In a similar vein, the tech world labels as zombies internet-connected computers that have been compromised and controlled remotely to perform malicious tasks or any Unix-based ‘child’ program abandoned by a ‘parent’ program.

Zombie data, meanwhile, refers to the massive amounts of data that are still stored and maintained on corporate networks, although they have been inactive or unused. While it’s usually easy to identify the source and previous owner of the data and what should be done with it, data such as PST files create many dangers for enterprises.

Dangers of PSTs

Barracuda Networks has highlighted how PST files:

  • Increase the risk of data loss because they can be easily copied and moved to another Outlook client. And tools are available to crack password-protected PST files.
  • Cause storage, backup and retention process problems. The entire PST container file is backed up each time Outlook connects to a PST. With a PST file averaging 100,000-plus emails or 1.3GB in size, more users using or storing PSTs will greatly impact storage resources, backup windows and restore times.
  • Are incredibly elusive. Outlook must have access to the location where the PST is stored, be it on the server, desktop, laptop or portable storage device. So, if users work from different desktops or locations, or connect to different networks, they may lose access to the PSTs.
  • Can derail strategic IT projects. A large amount of data can be put at risk if they are not discovered and handled correctly when consolidating email data to, for example, an online Microsoft Exchange platform, or to either new hardware or a virtual environment.
  • Compromise legal hold requests and best practices. Emails contained in PST files won’t be identified in e-discovery requests because their content can be accessed by end-users only. Further, the PST file is merely a container and does not fall under compliance requirements although the emails and attachments it contains do.  Hence, PST files contain emails that should be managed, but access restrictions exclude them from the usual retention, deletion or classification policies.
  • Put pressure on IT support. Not designed to hold large amounts of email data, the PSTs are unreliable and often corrupt stored information. It only takes a power outage or PC breakdown to disconnect these files from the Outlook profile.

The final point results in zombie data – PST files detached from their Outlook profiles to become orphans and losing their correlation with the original owner. These associations cannot be restored, even by Outlook.

To mitigate these risks, organizations need the necessary technology tools and processes to find and eliminate zombie data and ensure they never return.

With modern archiving solutions, PST file content becomes archives and become easily managed.  Organizations can then locate, migrate and eliminate the problematic files prior to strategic projects such as cloud or Exchange migration, desktop refresh, VDI or BYOD initiatives.

Finding orphans

A leading Canadian insurance and financial services organization acquired another company that used PST files to support a large number of email accounts on POP3 email systems. The insurer needed to quickly discover the PST files, ingest the PST data and migrate the acquired company’s end users to its corporate email system systematically and with minimal disruption.

It deployed, configured and managed Barracuda Networks’ PST Enterprise within a web services environment to discover PST files without interrupting end users and report on found data. Then, PST Enterprise determines and assigns the owner to found PST files that are not associated with an existing Outlook profile.

This task of tying the discovered PST files to the company’s new Exchange mailboxes is critical because during migration, every PST created via the POP3 email systems was effectively orphaned. The task essentially allows the IT team to eliminate zombie data. PST Enterprise also migrated the PST file data to the end-users’ mailboxes and managed them.

PST Enterprise is now core to the Canadian insurer’s email migration projects, according to its director of IT. He found it simple to create custom SQL scripts and extend the flexible tool to run the batch-type processes that the organization needed.

Life and death decisions

PST Enterprise can also query data far beyond the company’s retention scheme on a broad, automated basis and provide the content details necessary to make retention decisions.

The solution periodically inspects servers and file shares for PSTs that are orphaned or follow and take the appropriate action against these files. On the other hand, companies abandoning PST use can simply identify and remove the zombie data.

Barracuda further provides archival solutions that index and preserve emails to enforce message content and retention policies for regulatory compliance, and optimize storage on the email server. Messages for litigation can be searched and reproduced as electronic evidence in a legal discovery process.

Through roles-based web consoles, users can identify and manage data regardless of where it is saved across an organization. They can locate, archive, copy, delete and retain pertinent information quickly and efficiently.

These tools complement organizations’ ability to remove zombie data before they create information chaos, raise security risks and paralyze overburdened IT organizations.

This is a QuestexAsia feature commissioned by Barracuda Networks.