Product Review: QuadroTech PST FlightDeck
Product: QuadroTech PST FlightDeck
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QUADROtech Solutions, a spinoff of GlassHouse Technologies, is an independent and privately held company with its headquarters in Switzerland.
The QUADROtech solution suite started as a set of tools used for PST migrations and Symantec Enterprise Vault [EV] data management. Nowadays, it develops products such as ArchiveShuttle to migrate EV and other archive systems between software versions or across platforms such as to Exchange or Office 365, or MailboxShuttle for Exchange to Exchange/Office 365 migrations. This review focuses on PST FlightDeck v3.1, an enterprise grade tool for migrating PST files into Exchange, Office 365 or EV.
As most administrator will agree, PSTs have several disadvantages such as the inability of running eDiscovery searches on them, the fact they get easily corrupted, users can only access them in Outlook (not in OWA or mobile devices), and often duplication of data. Because of all of this, it comes as no surprise that most administrators do not like PSTs, with some organizations even blocking users from using them.
So let us see how PST FlightDeck can help us with this.
PST FlightDeck is based on a three step process:
- Discover: a Migration Agent is deployed to end-users’ workstations to find all PST files in their Outlook profile, local disk, removable media or network. Information regarding each file is sent to the PST FlightDeck server for reporting and analysis;
- Transfer: the migration typically starts by users identifying what should happen to each PST file that has been discovered. Alternatively, administrators can make this decision themselves and migrate PSTs without user intervention. PST files that are opened in Outlook can be copied to the server so they can be ingested, and updated to read-only mode so users can no longer store data on them. The transfer of PST files from the users’ workstations to the server is done using Microsoft BITS technology;
- Ingest: before PST files are ingested into the target environment, PST FlightDeck performs several checks and actions to ensure a smooth ingestion. This is referred to as the back-end processing and consists of (customizable by the administrator):
Pre-Requisites and Installation
Installing PST FlightDeck is as simple as it can get. All we need is a physical or virtual Windows Server 2008 R2 (or newer) server with a quad-core CPU and 8GB of RAM. Obviously these specs are simply guidelines and depend on the environment itself.
Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5, BITS and Internet Information Server [IIS] with ASP.Net enabled are required, but QUADROtech provides useful PowerShell scripts that install all the prerequisites required for the tool.
Microsoft Outlook 2010/2013 x64 is also required, and if the target for ingesting PST files is EV, then the Enterprise Vault Administration Console also needs to be installed on the same server.
The main requisite of PST FlightDeck is an SQL Server database which is used to track the migration project. The minimum recommended configuration for this server is 2 CPU cores, 4GB of RAM and a couple of GB of disk space as the database should not grow very large. SQL Server 2008 or above is supported (not SQL Express), either 32 or 64-bit version. A shared SQL instance is perfectly adequate.
As to ingesting PSTs into Exchange, the only prerequisites are to have Windows Remote Management [WinRM] enabled on at least one Client Access Server, and to give the service account used by the tool import/export mailbox data permissions by adding it to the Mailbox Import Export management role.
During the installation we will also be asked to specify:
- Backup location where PST files will be backed up to before they are processed by PST FlightDeck. This location will need to be large enough to hold all PST files being ingested;
- Filter location where any filtered data such as EV shortcuts will be placed. If a PST file has EV shortcuts in it, we can filter them so that a new PST is created in this location and the shortcuts moved to the new file;
- BITS upload location is a temporary folder where Migration Agents upload PST files to. When migration has finished for a particular PST file, the tool will remove the data from this folder.
PST FlightDeck has an end-user component called the Migration Agent. This software interacts with end-users during the migration, by telling users when the migration is beginning, optionally allowing them to postpone it, and informing them of the end of the migration. As we will see later in this review, communication with users can also be done through e-mail. In the background, these agents perform tasks for the PST FlightDeck server such as scanning for PST files and uploading them to the server.
At the time of writing this review, the Migration Agent is supported on the following Operating Systems (both 32 and 64-bit):
- Windows XP SP3 or above;
- Windows Vista SP1 or above;
- Windows 7 or above;
- Windows 8 or above.
To deploy it to workstations, we can simply run the MSI file and walk through the wizard. This is practical for testing, but not for a corporate roll-out. For that, since the Migration Agent is an MSI file, it can be deployed using MSIEXEC, which facilitates deployments using automated software management tools like System Center Configuration Manager.
User Interface & Configuration
The entire PST FlightDeck user interface is visually very good and easy to navigate. It is divided into three main sections: Manage, Reports and Settings:
The first screen we are presented with is the Dashboard, under Manage, which shows an overview of the PST migration:
Under System Events, we can see key events relating to the functioning of the environment, broken down into the following sections:
- Core: events relating to the PST FlightDeck application logic and services;
- Provisioning: events relating to provisioning of users for migration;
- Discovery Scanner: events relating to discovery of PST files;
- Enterprise Vault: events relating to Enterprise Vault;
- File Scanner: events relating to File Scanner;
- Migration Agent: events relating to Migration Agent.
In Operator Events we can see key events relating to the PST migration itself:
- Configuration Errors: events relating to configuration information;
- Migration Errors: events relating to migration issues;
- Help Requests: events indicating a help request was sent by an end-user.
All these nine event boxes use the following color scheme:
- Blue if there are zero events to review;
- Green if there are between 1 and 5 issues to investigate;
- Orange if there are more than 5 issues to investigate.
Project Statistics gives us an indicator of the day to day progress of the migration. This bar graph shows the total number of PST files that have completed migration, failed migration or still need to be migrated.
In Overall Statistics and User Statistics we have a multitude of statistics around PST files and users processed.
By default, all these statistics are updated every 12 hours, but they can also be refreshed by clicking on the Refresh button.
By navigating to Settings we are presented with several subcategories:
In this section we can configure some of the different options relating to PST FlightDeck, such as the highest priority a migration can have (more on this later), the mailbox for PSTs which owners are not known, upload location, and more:
Under the Advanced tab we get a myriad of options such as the maximum number of concurrent uploads and size limit, how many days users can delay their migration, mail server settings for sending e-mails, default language of e-mails sent by the tool, etc.:
In this section we configure what to do with PST files that will be migrated, an important setting for any migration. When a Migration Agent is processing PST files on end-user workstations, it can process them by disconnecting them from Outlook or by creating a Snapshot. Specifying Disconnect Mode means that end-users will be asked to close Outlook so that the Migration Agent can disconnect the PST files and set them to read-only and hidden. Using Snapshot Mode means that the Outlook-attached PST files are copied in the background, with this snapshot being used for ingestion.
We can also set the frequency of each scan and what folders to scan and/or exclude, a settings that might reveal useful in some environments as administrators can exclude typically big folders such as Windows, thus improving the scanning performance especially on slower machines:
Under Advanced we can configure what options the user has access to under the Migration Agent’s system tray icon amongst other settings:
This screen shows which tasks PST FlightDeck is going to run and when, with the possibility of changing their schedule:
This screen allows for advanced control of the various modules which PST FlightDeck uses when performing PST migrations, such as enable/disable individual modules or control what happened if any of them fail:
Once Migration Agents have been deployed to users’ workstations, we can have a closer look at what has been found. Using the Users view, we can see a list of all users and customize the view by sorting, adding or removing columns:
We can also search for particular users (as above) or use filters to list only the users we are interested in:
Once we find the user(s) we want, we can dig a bit deeper and see what PSTs were found:
In this case, we are interested in ingesting the BICL 2002.pst file into Exchange. As we can see from the screenshot below, this PST file is currently opened by the user in Outlook and contains 38 items in a subfolder called Inbox:
When we select one or more PST files, there are several operations we can perform:
Before PST FlightDeck can migrate PST files, users need to be enabled for migration. There are a number of possibilities for enabling users:
- Enable All: depending on the number of end-users in the organization, we might want to simply enable everyone at the same time. On an enterprise scale, this approach has the biggest impact on the amount of space required for PST ingestion as we need to ensure that the BITS upload folder and the Backup folder have sufficient space to accommodate all of the PST files in the environment;
- Enable Geographic Subset: this approach is useful if we want to migrate users based on their office or country, starting with one location and then either completing that before moving on to the next location, or having a small overlap between one location finishing PST Migration and the next one starting;
- Enable Based On Group Membership: many organizations begin their PST migration by working with a particular Active Directory [AD] group. Using this option, we can specify an AD group which a scheduled task will get a list of users from and enable them;
- Enable Individual Users: the last option is simply to manually enable users individually or in batches and enabling them as required.
Once we are ready to start the migration, we change the user’s Migration Priority to a value other than zero. The priority associated with a user indicates whether or not they are enabled for PST migration and at which priority the PST files for the user will be processed (until this happens, nothing will get migrated):
Once a user is enabled for migration, an e-mail will be sent to the end user (if chosen of course) informing him/her about the migration:
This e-mail, and many other that PST FlightDeck can generate for users and administrators, are fully customizable. Under Manage there is an Email subcategory from where we can edit all e-mails generated:
By clicking in Edit we can customize an e-mail using two methods. The first one is HTML which we can use to edit the HTML code or copy-paste from another source:
And the other method is using a comprehensive yet easy to use editor:
For each e-mail we can also customize what time of the day it is sent and edit rules that define if an e-mail is sent or not:
The user(s) will then get notified that one or more PSTs are ready to be migrated:
The user can then either start or postpone the migration. If the user chooses to postpone the migration then they will be prompted again in 2 days by default. They can continue to postpone the migration for a total of 14 days, after which the migration will begin (both these values are configurable).
When the user finally chooses to proceed with the migration, each of the PST files that have been discovered by the Migration Agent will be displayed. The user then has a number of choices (configurable by administrators) open to them for each PST file:
- Migrate (default): signals the Migration Agent that the selected PST file should be marked for migration, and migration of that file will begin;
- Delete: signals the Migration Agent that the selected PST file is no longer needed by the end-user and, as such, the PST file will be deleted. PST files that a user marks to be deleted can be backed up by the PST FlightDeck server first (this option is controlled in the Environment settings section), in which case the PST is deleted 24h (also configurable) after the backup has completed;
- Not Mine: means the PST file does not belong to the user. In this case the PST file will be assigned to the ownerless account configured in the Environment settings section. An Administrator can at a later time assign the PST file to the correct owner once that has been determined.
Once the migration starts, we check its progress under the Users view in Manage for example:
Clicking in Info we can get a detailed description of what the current stage of the migration is for this particular PST file. This is useful as it allows administrators to keep track of the progress and inform users if necessary:
When the PST migration completes for the user, he/she will receive a further dialog indicating the results of the migration, and asking them to confirm the post-processing step of deleting the PST file. This deletion does not take place immediately after the user confirms this step, but 24 hours after (configurable as already mentioned).
If preferred, the user can also receive an e-mail informing him/her that the migration has finish (or even receive an e-mail instead of the popup):
If we now check the Exchange Online Archive of the user, we will find the exact same files migrated from the PST files:
Reporting and Audit
PST FlightDeck includes a series of useful and detailed reports that help troubleshooting, getting in-depth information about the migration/project status, producing a complete audit trail and keeping track of users’ and admins’ decisions.
Although not exactly a report, the PST FlightDeck Dashboard shows an overview of the PST migration with some useful information such as overall statistics or any problems encountered:
There are several reports under the Reports section:
This report presents a graphical view of the PST migration project. The screen is divided into a number of sections:
- Overall Summary: shows summary data relating to the PST migration;
- Size Distribution: presents a pie chart identifying the sizes of PST files that have been identified for migration;
- Status: presents statistics relating to the status of PST file migration, the number of items in a particular status and the size of the PST files;
- Age Distribution: presents a pie chart showing the age distribution of PST files (based on their modified date) which have been identified for migration;
- Daily Completion: shows two bar graphs relating to the number of PST files which were completed and the size of PST files completed, per day.
This report shows an overview of the PST migration from the perspective of end-users. By default the columns below are shown but, as previously mentioned, this can be customized by adding or removing columns:
- Account: the account name for the end-user;
- Full Name: the end-users full name;
- Number of Files: the total number of PST files for the user;
- Completed Files: the number of PST files which have been migrated;
- Size of Files: the total size of the PST files which have been migrated;
- User Deleted Files: the number of files that a user has decided to delete.
Another useful feature is the fact that these reports can be exported in a number of formats:
This report section shows an overview of the PST migration from the perspective of PST files, showing by default:
- Path: the full UNC path to the PST file;
- File Name: the file name of the PST;
- Size: the size of the PST file;
- Status: the current status of the PST file;
- Upload Status: where the file was successfully uploaded to the PST FlightDeck server.
Like the Users report, this one can be customized or exported.
This report shows an overview of the workstations which have been discovered during the migration project, showing by default:
- Account: the end-user account name;
- Full Name: the end-user full name;
- Computer Name: the workstation’s name;
- Last Discovery Date: date and time that the workstation was last discovered by the Migration Agent.
If we expand a particular account, we can get further details such as the version of Outlook used or Windows version for example:
PST FlightDeck is clearly a comprehensive and powerful PST migration tool. Although aimed at enterprise-level organizations, it does not mean SMEs cannot use it, on the contrary. However, because this tool can do so much, some administrators might find it hard to understand and use. Tasks like enabling or triggering users to be migrated are not straightforward, but the user guide does a good job here.
It should be noted that PST FlightDeck has capabilities that some of its competitors lack. Such examples are the ability to provide some control to users over what gets migrated and when, the fact that password-protected PST are not an obstacle and the ability to de-duplicate e-mails across PST files, just to name a few.
All these features, plus many other already described in this review such as its capable incident handling, excellent reports and high degree of customization, make this one of the best PST migration tools I have ever worked with. Without a doubt, a great tool to help organizations of any size get rid of those unwelcomed PSTs and re-gaining control of all e-mail related data.
MSExchange.org Rating 4.7/5
Learn more about QuadroTech PST FlightDeck.