Practical Exchange Management, Part 2: Time for an Attachment Bypass

Practical Exchange Management, Part 2: Time for an Attachment Bypass

October 1

Standardizing and automating your email are great steps toward slimming down your Microsoft Exchange server. But it doesn’t solve the attachment problem, arguably the biggest source of excess bulk on Exchange.

Attachments can turn a 20KB emails to a 5MB ones. Attachments proliferate faster than tribbles. Attachments sometimes get sent out to the wrong people and they’re hard to track, which can lead to versioning discrepancies and even file corruption.

When I started writing this post, I expected to focus on the technologies that can bring attachments under control. But technologies can only do so much, particularly when people don’t evolve with them. After all, you don’t hitch a carriage to a Subaru, so why would you pass around attachments as if they were hard copies stuffed in interoffice envelopes?

From Delivery to Self-Service

An obvious source of Exchange server bloat are those attachments sent around to people on a given team or department. If you take that 20KB email with its 5MB attachment and send it around to all 30 members of your sales team, you’ve increased the size of your Exchange server by over 150MB!

Of course, this means of distribution is still common among organizations because it mimics the way documents were shared back in the day. Back then your sales manager put together a Q3 sales report and had his secretary make 30 photocopies, which were then delivered into the physical in-boxes of the sales staff.

Pre-2010 versions of Exchange came with SIS (Single Instance Storage) technology as a work-around to the problem. The Exchange team blog explains why SIS was ditched in Exchange 2010:

The architectural changes we have implemented enable the commoditization of email – providing very large mailboxes at a low cost.  Disk capacity is no longer a premium. Disk space is cheap and IT shops can take advantage of larger, cheaper disks to reduce their overall cost.  With Exchange 2010 you can deploy a highly available system with a degree of storage efficiency without SIS at a fraction of the cost that was required with previous versions of Exchange.

While increased space capacity does lessen the need for mailbox quotas, it doesn’t address the increasing unworkability of the old methods of distribution. Really, what is the advantage to sending out those 30 copies to the sales staff beyond, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it?” or “I want to make sure everybody gets a copy.”

The fact is, sending out these copies is no guarantee that the recipients will get it, let alone read it. For many people, inboxes have become a sort of dumping ground, which is why on any given week you can read articles and posts about email bankruptcy and inbox zero.

Doesn’t it make more sense to have the sales staff access that Q3 sales report from a central location, such as a SharePoint portal, rather than send it out into the ether? SharePoint integrates seamlessly with Windows server and Office 365. Instead of sending the full attachment, the sales manager just distributes a link to the file. Moreover, the manager can set up permissions to control who can access the file and who can edit the file, so that everyone is working from the same version. He can even track the people in his department who downloaded the file (and ideally have read or skimmed it), something he couldn’t do when it was sent the old-fashioned way.

Meanwhile, that attachment bypasses the Exchange server entirely. And that will certainly keep its weight down.

Of course, the hardest part is getting people to make this change. If you have some thoughts on how organizations can change these paradigms, please share them in the comments or on Twitter!

Photo credit: US Postal Service via Wikimedia