Administrators who have ever deployed or maintained Microsoft Exchange will know that it is no mere e-mail server; more than ever, organisations are integrating access to its contacts, calendaring, and collaboration functionality as part of their core business processes.
One unfortunate complaint that seems to afflict many users though would be the seemingly inevitable slowdowns in Outlook, resulting in an inferior experience when accessing Exchange. I can certainly identify with the frustration, having first used Microsoft Outlook in the days of Outlook 95.
In order to increase the user satisfaction on your network, let’s take a look at some steps that you can take to ensure that your non-IT colleagues are able to work at their maximum productivity.
- Upgrade to Outlook 2010
Organizations looking for a speedier Exchange experience will do well to upgrade to the recently released Outlook 2010, which has been enhanced to improve the handling of e-mails. Performance tweaks made by Microsoft means that Outlook 2010 is simply more stable and faster, a fact that I can personally attest to. In addition, users dismayed by the poor search capabilities of Outlook 2007 will be pleasantly surprised by its much more capable and faster searching.
- Implement an archival solution
One of the main reasons for slow mailboxes is an excessive amount of e-mails. While improvements have been made in each version of Exchange Server to handle ever larger mailbox sizes, a leaner mailbox of 1GB or lower contributes immensely to snappier performance. Compliance laws however, mean that users are not necessarily free to delete e-mails on whim. This is where a good archival solution such as GFI’s MailArchiver comes into play, allowing users to keep their mailboxes trim while still being able to search for and refer to older e-mails.
- Limit Storage Space
In line with the rationale behind implementing an archiving solution, a simpler way to keep mailboxes lean would be to limit the amount of storage space allowable per user. In general, users who know that they don’t have unlimited storage on their e-mail accounts tend to be more amenable to not mass-mailing irrelevant video clips and large pictures attachments to their colleagues.
One concession to appease senior executives (who might veto this move) would be to tier differing allotments of storage space based on seniority. Such an initiative would serve at least to speed up the Exchange experience for the majority of workers.
- Disable Outlook plug-ins
One sure way to slow down or render Microsoft Outlook unstable would be to install lots of Outlook plug-ins. They can be particularly insidious due to the fact that some applications install such plug-ins by default, or obfuscate their presence by bundling it as part of an innocuous option. If your users are complaining of frequent unexplained crashes though, there is a good chance that it is the direct result of an ill-behaving plug-in.
In order to benefit from Google Desktop’s search capabilities, I had, in the past, opted to install the bundled Outlook plug-in with Outlook 2007. I noticed that it lead to a large number of crashes though, prompting me to eventually uninstall it. On the Outlook front, fellow blogger John P Mello Jr wrote an excellent piece recently on how to speed up the popular e-mail client.
- Disable HTTP
To facilitate communication from behind a firewall, Outlook comes with the option of connecting to Microsoft Exchange Server via an HTTP proxy. In a tacit acknowledgement that encapsulating RPC calls within HTTP packets is slower, Microsoft has built the relevant options into Outlook allowing users to opt for direct TCP/IP connection before switching to HTTP. Ensure that direct TCP/IP is prioritized.
- Enable Cached Exchange Mode
The key strength of a corporate mail server like Microsoft Exchange has to do with how it securely and reliably stores all e-mails in a central repository. Still, the experienced system administrator will know that accessing data will always be faster from a local cache. While I noticed that “Cached Exchange Mode” was enabled by default for me in Outlook 2010, system administrators will do well to ensure that e-mail caching have not been mistakenly disabled by end-users.
- Upgrade your client computer
Regardless of the tweaks suggested above, attempting to access Microsoft Exchange via a netbook computer with slow storage will likely result in an unpleasant experience. I did notice a far snappier response from Outlook after I upgraded my laptop to use a solid-state disk (SSD), which has much faster read and write timings than conventional hard disk drives (HDDs). In addition, the case for upgrading to SSDs is bolstered should you enable Cached Exchange Mode, while the steadily decreasing prices should also make it an attractive option.