PST Files in Windows 365 and Virtual Computing

Today is Windows 365 day! As someone who started his early IT career as a Terminal Server Administrator, I am very excited about this new offering!

I remember those days fondly, with zombie printers, bad keyboard mapping, and orphaned sessions. As time has gone on, virtual computing for end-users is well beyond these early days. Windows 365 is the next offering in this exciting space.

Virtual computing for many organizations allows for centralized control and management of user experiences. Often the intended side effect is a stronger security footprint. However, the payoff for these environments has usually been something reserved for organizations of size. Instead of managing all these endpoints in the wild, the organizations can send out long-lasting terminals, low-cost hardware, or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) models.

For organizations to adopt virtual computing, they had to make significant investments in hardware and have specially trained employees. Organizations needed to implement complex network appliances, storage, computing clusters, and so much more. Each of these required highly trained staff to build and maintain the systems. Although there were a lot of returns for clients, these costs left many smaller businesses avoiding these investments. This makes the Windows 365 offering very attractive.

Data centralization

Those that are entering virtual computing can learn a lot from organizations that have gone before them. Very early on, these organizations had to centralize user data to be successful. For most, this meant moving all the users’ files from their workstations onto network storage. Now, this usually means migrating all data into Office 365.

For now, Windows 365 appears to be focused on assigning one computer per person. This experience is different from some options where users randomly go to a bank of provisioned virtual workstations. This model means the user can have local data in theory, but it just doesn’t make sense for most situations. If there were local data on Windows 365 computers, you would then need to worry about file backup and recovery. If the data is in OneDrive for Business or other locations, the data falls under your existing backup and recovery plans.

In addition, it makes no sense for these workstations to go back on-prem to file shares. This network topology could be a long and slow trip. Not only would this be a bad user experience, but it could also add pressure on your infrastructure. It will be best for the user and IT to centralize as much data as possible in Office 365. Data centralization has several other positive benefits, including data security, eDiscovery, and options to use more productivity tools in the Office 365 suite.

PST files in Windows 365

PST files have long been a challenge for virtual computing. By virtual computing, I include both app streaming and virtual desktops. Where PST files are large database files, they do not move around well. Often these files are several GB of data. Constant moving takes a long time. If users are trying to open these files off a central location, the risk of corruption is increased drastically.

For OneDrive for Business, the user’s sync client needs to do a lot of work! If the user makes one minor change to the file, the entire file has to re-sync. In July, Microsoft announced a crackdown on PST versions. This is completely logical and something Tony Redmond covers well in his Office365forITPros article. If the user is doing this with PST files in Windows 365, this will waste a lot of resources and may even require a more expensive machine to handle the work.

To answer the basic question ‘Are Outlook PST files supported in Windows 365?’, the short answer is, PST files will technically work in Windows 365, but you should not do it.

PST files need to be correctly migrated into a centralized system, usually Exchange Online, to take full advantage of Windows 365. In fact, nearly all user data, should be centralized to take full advantage of Windows 365.

For organizations that have not consumed virtual computing for end-users, this new offering might be tempting. However, one prerequisite for users to get the most out of this shift is data centralization.


About the Author

Mike Weaver

Mike Weaver is a Microsoft MVP that specializes in Office 365 tenant-to-tenant migrations, PST migration projects and more in the Microsoft 365 space. With a wealth of experience in Mergers, Acquisitions and Divestitures (MAD), Mike often writes about technology solutions and personal considerations to ensure both successful integration and adoption.

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