Email Quotas: Two Sides of the Coin

Organizations of every size are laboring under the burden of burgeoning data. A number of factors are contributing to that burden.

More data is made up of multimedia files, for example, which take up more space than simple text documents. Compliance and legal requirements force organizations to create more data, too, and to keep it for longer periods of time. And of course, increasing email volumes are also fueling the problem.

Some email streams contributing to an administrator’s storage woes are controllable, others are not. The volume of external spam targeting an organization, for instance, is beyond an administrator’s control, although it can be mitigated through the use of filters and other anti-spam measures.

Sometimes software flaws can contribute to ballooning email volumes, too, as many administrators using Exchange 2010 discovered. A version of that program contained a bug that needlessly created duplicates of messages and attachments and stashed them in the Recoverable Items Folder, formally known as Dumpster.

Some email volumes are more controllable, though, such as internal spam and fluff mail. Through the effective use of email policy, employees can help an administrator tighten the belt on email bloat by reducing the number of “empty” emails — emails containing chatty conversations and extracurricular information — ending up in their email archives.

Another way to control email volumes is through quotas. In theory, quotas can make employees more conscientious about what they save and what they delete. When they see that “You’re Approaching Your Quota” message, employees may be more judicious about their email practices.

On the other hand, quotas can be inviting disaster by asking employees to be the final arbiter on what’s important and what’s not to an organization.

However, if quotas are too restrictive they can create more problems than they solve. That’s because such quotas fail to recognize how email is used by most workers today.

“The average employee uses email at work has changed,” Peter Bauer, CEO and co-founder of Mimecast, a cloud-based email archiving, continuity and security provider, recently said in a statement. “For many people, email is no longer just a messaging system. It has become the primary tool for storing, sharing and searching for information.”

Because that’s the case, it shouldn’t be surprising that a recent survey by Mimecast showed that employees spend half their working day — four hours — working with email.

The survey is also discovered that workers preferred email over social media for collaboration in the workplace. More than three quarters (76 percent) of the respondents in the survey said that social media had not reduced the need for email when communicating with peers.

While email quotas can be a useful tool to keep message volumes in check, if they’re too restrictive, they can reduce an organization’s productivity by preventing workers from using email the way they need to use it to get their jobs done.

Microsoft, when designing Exchange 2013, took an extreme view toward quotas. Because the software’s architecture allows it to run well on low-budget hardware, it believes quotas can be entirely eliminated from a business environment.

Quotas are a big productivity problem, Ross Smith, principal program manager for Exchange, told TechRadar. “[U]sers come in and they spend the first hour of the day deleting mail so they’re back on quota,” he asserted.

Written by John P Mello Jr

John Mello is a freelance writer who has written about business and technical subjects for more than 25 years. He is frequent contributor to the ECT News Network and his work has appeared in a number of periodicals, including Byte magazine, PC World, Computerworld, CIO magazine and the Boston Globe


  1. David Black · November 28, 2012

    With cloud storage, in theory quotas for a company could be limitless but still it would be good, if we have a quota tool at our disposal – just in case we need it. This is why I am not very enthusiastic about the quota tool being completely removed.

  2. Timothy Waynes · November 30, 2012

    I am currently a manager and owner of a growing company, and I definitely advocate e-mail quotas. It has helped us in a lot of ways. First we’re able to greatly minimize spam. Second we can easily keep track of our e-mail use. Third, this increases our productivity. Fourth, we can limit the types of images as well as documents we upload, so we tend to focus on the most important aspects of our business functions. Of course, there are cons. That is expected in every decision. However, with proper education and constant scalability, these limitations can be easily offset.

  3. Mandy Monroe · December 1, 2012

    There’s no perfect system, and with that, there are pros and cons to every choice. I definitely believe that an organization makes a right decision once it implements quotas. It simply disciplines people, and e-mails are done more professionally. There’s no time to beat around the bush, and chitchats are immediately avoided. Further, it helps IT properly keep track of what goes in and out of the organization. Nevertheless, e-mail systems should also be scalable, which means the quota should go up as more employees are welcomed into the organization. Otherwise, e-mails may simply become useless.

  4. Andy Miller · December 2, 2012

    I used to receive this kind of message when I still worked for an IT company, and back then, I hated it to my very core. It’s just frustrating! You know, you’re about to send something extremely important, and then your e-mail bounces back because of over quota. But now that I’m already an IT manager in a large firm, I learn to appreciate it. It’s just making our job so much easier, especially in monitoring and assessing our e-mail security strategies. We simply need to communicate properly to the rest of the staff so they don’t curse out on a daily basis.

  5. shawn harry · December 10, 2012

    Quotas are a big productivity problem, Ross Smith, principal program manager for Exchange, told TechRadar. “[U]sers come in and they spend the first hour of the day deleting mail so they’re back on quota,” he asserted

    These kind of comments make me dispair. If you’re users were that productive in the first place they wouldn’t have a mailbox GB and GB’s in size. And they’d also pay attention to the warning and heed the warning by ensuring their mailbox is within acceptable limits.

    In every construct in life there MUST be rules that must be adhered to for operational efficiency. When did IT become any different? Email is not a storage platform. Thats what we have Archives for. Additionally NO Email platform has a limitless amount of storage or an accompanying budget to accomodate that. And even if it did even the vendor would encourage you against such a practice. From a practical perspective its simply not logical or conducive to offering adequate levels of support in line with the business’s requirements. Every messaging system should have a qouta. Anything less simply makes support chaotic. All you then require is the underlying process to support this and the relavent end user communication.

  6. Mark Smith · October 1, 2014

    E-mail quotas are simple counterproductive. First, even if it sounds like a very small part to do, it still remains an added to-do list for employees. I for one don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if I’m already close to the limit. Second, it requires constant adjustments and personalization as the company grows and as employees’ roles in the organization changes. Third, it doesn’t really end spam or any other security threat. Rather, companies should empower their employees with better e-mail education to make them more accountable and responsible.

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