My colleague Paul Mah recently wrote an excellent article called “The Argument for Smaller Email Inboxes.” In this post, he laid out several compelling reasons why companies may want to limit the size of their users’ inboxes, and I encourage you to review Paul’s article, either before continuing with this one, or after. Every story has two sides, and his post addresses real issues companies may encounter if they simply allow unlimited mailbox size without first assessing their environment.
However, I have been and always will be an advocate for larger mailboxes. The larger, the better, and if you have the infrastructure, and the clients that can support this, I think you’ll understand that this is a great way to go. While my post here will address Microsoft Exchange, several of the ideas are applicable to other mail servers too. Here are my 5 reasons for supporting larger inboxes.
1. All email, all the time
I have had a Gmail account since the days of the pre-announced betas. My mailbox capacity is currently listed at > 7.5 GB. I only have about 412 MB of mail in it, but I have every old email I might ever need to find, no matter what or how long ago it was received. The oldest email I have in it is from 2001. In a company, I want the same thing. Who cares if the email was from five years ago? I know I received an email that has the information I need… I ought to be able to simply find and open it. I don’t want to have to parse through dozens of archives, or request a tape be brought up from the catacombs. Outlook 2010 has a great search tool and I should be able to use it.
2. Ready access from anywhere
If all the email I have is on the server, then I can get to it from anywhere. Whether I use Outlook on the laptop you just gave me because mine died, or OWA, or my phone, or my iPad, mail that lives on the server is backed up, online, and accessible no matter what happens to my client devices.
3. It’s discoverable
Sure, there are two sides to this argument too, however, if something comes up and you are served with a court order to provide emails relevant to an issue, being able to simply index and dump from the server is quick, easy, and keeps you from having to bring in the users’ laptops for imaging, pull tapes from years old archives, or any of the other fun things that might be necessary to comply with the order.
4. Exchange is designed with this in mind
Exchange 2010’s design is intended to keep all your mail on the server, ready for whatever client device an authorized user has to access it. Exchange 2010 has reduced IOPS per user to 0.1, ensuring optimum performance from the largest drives even if you are not buying top of the line SANs. Reducing IOPS was done with less expensive hard drives in mind. Since that does not come without its own set of risks, consider Database Access Groups and the self-healing capabilities of Exchange 2010.
5. PSTs (the alternative) are evil
When you limit users’ mailbox size, your intent may be to encourage them to prune their inboxes of unnecessary emails, but the result is they will create PSTs; lots of really big ones. After the first hard disk crash on a laptop (which will probably result in lost business data unless you can recover the PST,) the users will start to move those PSTs off to network shares so they are backed up. Congratulations, they have just crushed your fileservers. PSTs are NOT supported as an enterprise means for storing mail (KB297019) and you can read more about their performance hit on the network here.
As I indicated at the start of this post, a lot of the above is predicated on you having current version clients, the latest version of Exchange, and adequate storage for these large mailboxes. If you are running on an older system now, please keep the above in mind as you begin to plan for your new system. Whether that is for next quarter, or next year, being able to support large mailboxes offers significant advantages to businesses, and will make the email admin’s day much easier.
At my current company, we give each user, whether they are the CEO or an intern, 25GB of space. How large (or small) are your inboxes, and why?