The Tricky Question of Balancing Mailbox Size Limits

Email has become a vital part of our lives, crucial in to business and the way we work in this new information age. With literally billions of email messages being sent every single day, it has become quite literally indispensable. Each business worker sends an average of 36 emails a day, and they receive as many as 74 in return. This huge volume brings into sharp focus issues of mailbox size, as well as the attachment size for files that go with the emails that we send and receive.

Specifically, I am considering the issue of email attachments from the perspective of businesses and their employees.

Most corporations, in order to try and balance storage capacity with backup and restore time, and data recovery, will place restrictions on the size of their users’ mailboxes. Companies will also restrict the size of an attachment that users can send via the corporate email server. Sometimes, companies will also place restrictions on the size of email attachments that can be received as well.

I recently came across an interesting bit of research in the UK by Virgin Media Business, which shows that these limitations that organizations place on attachment and mailbox size are actually holding back the country’s public sector with regards to efficiency.

In many cases, public sector workers are instead resorting to the use of public file sharing services to transmit company files and other sensitive information. Of course, this creates a huge problem with regard to corporate data security. The survey, which was completed by ten of the largest public sector organizations in the UK, came up with some very surprising and sometimes even disturbing results.

Interestingly though, it also showed that by relaxing the limitations on attachment and inbox size, increased productivity and a reduced security risk would result.

The survey found that a lot of the restrictions these organizations placed on employees were unnecessarily tight. As a result, productivity was being impacted and a lot of confidential data was being put at risk. The results also indicated that a great many staff were constantly attempting to find methods of circumventing the tight restrictions, as they were worried that important messages and/or attachments would not be received.

Focusing on the limitations placed on mailboxes, the survey showed that some 69% of workers were unable to send or receive email messages that are bigger than 10MB, while 89% were limited to 15 MB for sending and receiving mails.

On average, workers in the UK are restricted to sending messages no bigger than 12.5 MB in total, and they are also restricted to a mailbox size of just 140 MB, which is not that big at all when you consider those 74 messages we receive each day.

These tight restrictions that have been placed on UK workers mean that they are very often unable to send or share large documents and files with colleagues and/or clients. In order to get by this problem, workers are instead making use of public file sharing websites such as DropBox or YouSendIt in order to upload and share the files there. Another way round the problem is to simply use personal email accounts.

Now, while this stop gap approach may work for the time being, and many workers and even bosses seem to be quite comfortable with the practice, doing such a thing is incredibly risky. Sensitive company data can easily be put at risks when it is transmitted using these methods.

Moreover, as the trend is for businesses and their workers to need to share ever-larger files with their co-workers, mailbox and sending limitations have the potential to become a massive hindrance. In many cases, employees will experience errors with their emails because either the attachment they are trying to send exceeds the limit of the recipient’s mailbox, or because it is already full.

In my own organization, we too have similar network restrictions, which are in place to balance bandwidth management with data storage, while maintaining a backup and restore time that is acceptable.

Currently, the restrictions in our office are that attachments can go up to a maximum 20 MB, but there are no restrictions to what we can receive. Our mailbox size meanwhile, is restricted to 2 GB.

These restrictions are justified, based on the number of employees we have, and the current storage capacity we have available.

However, I wonder if this will always be the case? When I consider the temptations of my staff to make use of public file sharing services, I am sure that when it comes round to me evaluating our data storage capabilities again, I will seriously consider raising these numbers a bit.

So a few thoughts to leave you with. What is the maximum mailbox size of your organization, and what’s the maximum attachment size?

Instead of just arbitrarily setting them, you may want to consider if these limits are justified, or if they need to be increased.

Written by Jesmond Darmanin


  1. Katrina Maxwell · April 21, 2011

    At my organization we have a 250Mb inbox size limit, and a 100Mb attachment size limit. It is not exactly…proportionate.

    I think the best solution is to give each department an equal share of the available storage, and then divide that equally among the employees in that department. If the company has more money to hire employees, some of that money ought to be budgeted for advanced storage. The bigger the company gets, the more need for storage there is, and that becomes part of the growth model.

  2. Marcus Plotichi · April 22, 2011

    Well, it used to be that storage space is a major concern. Today, it is not this way. Servers are more concerned on how fast and safe they can send / receive data. Even Gmail’s storage space limit is growing everyday. Back when I was still in college, Gmail’s limit was 2GB – and we considered that as a “luxury” storage space, the top of its kind. At present, it is more than 7.5GB.

  3. Anonymouse_Cat · May 13, 2011

    I totally agree with you Marcus. With the growing number of internal and external network attacks, coupled with malwares and spamwares, servers are now beefing up their security system.

    Storage space is not their major concern anymore. This is also partly due to the growing migration to cloud-based computing by most email servers.

    The right or “appropriate” mailbox size depends on the type of business, environment, and how rigorous the company’s communication is. For instance, when you’re in the fashion industry, limiting the email inbox size to only 1GB is not enough. People in fashion always share designs, photos, sketches, and videos. All these have heavy file sizes.

    In order for the business to function and grow, most fashion enterprises have large inbox sizes.

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