Practical Microsoft Exchange Management, Part 1: Archiving & Deleting Email

Practical Microsoft Exchange Management, Part 1: Archiving & Deleting Email

September 24

There’s an obesity epidemic going on, and neither diet nor exercise will help. It’s your Microsoft Exchange server, bloated with years of emails, attachments, and other data that prevents it from running quickly and smoothly.

Much of the problem has to do with the proliferation of data in general. According to The Michigan State Law Review, the average end user at an organization had 100GB of information associated with him or her. By 2012, that same end user had 1TB. Given that so many organizations use Exchange to run their email, contacts, and calendars, it makes sense that this increased girth would strain these servers as well.

What steps can you take to slim down your Exchange servers and help them run more efficiently? In this post we’ll focus on two email basics: archiving and deletion.

1. Archive email—and automate the process.

This one seems pretty remedial from an administrator’s perspective. Bulky .pst files use up space and siphon away needed processing power that can be better used handling current email.

In the past admins used mailbox quotas to manage .pst file size. Now that most data is electronically based, insisting on a mailbox quota is impractical. “[T]here are often legitimate business reasons why a certain user might need to store more mail than the quota allows,” writes Brien Posey of Redmond Magazine.

Posey suggests creating “a mailbox database dedicated to storing archive mailboxes” and then scripting the process of creating multiple archive mailboxes for your end users (check out his article for more detail).

However, your end users probably won’t archive their email, at least on a consistent basis, without you taking control of the process. Pick a reasonable amount of time, such as 30 days or three months, and use Messaging Records Management to automate the process.

Explains Posey:

Messaging Records Management works by assigning a series of retention policy tags…a series of policy elements controlling the way data is retained…to default folders such as the inbox. Typically, you’ll have to apply a default policy tag to the mailbox used to manage the retention for any item not manually tagged. However, the user can assign personal tags to individual items he wishes to retain. Once you’ve applied a retention policy to a mailbox, the Managed Folder Assistant periodically analyzes the contents of the mailbox and processes messages according to the retention policy you’ve applied.

Finally, let your end users know about your archiving policy, provide them with additional information on ways they can access archived email—and then remind them of these policies and best practices on a periodic basis. I can’t stress this enough. If they understand this policy, they can put aside important emails using tags and their client-side archive mailboxes – and they’ll be less likely to inundate you with support requests asking you to help find them.

2. Take advantage of ‘Defensible Deletion’ policies to automatically slim down email.

Personally I hoard my email. Space is cheap, and I never know when I’ll want to send an old friend an email she wrote to me 15 years ago.

But in some industries, particularly ones with complex regulatory and retention policies like the financial and medical fields, deleting email after a certain period of time will limit your legal risks in addition to slimming down your .pst files. Legal experts term this action “Defensible Deletion,” which assigns a legally acceptable expiration date for emails related to certain transactions.

For example, if you’re running an Exchange server for a medical practice, you need to retain emails related to patient records for a period of five years. But you probably don’t want to keep them any longer because you never know if a former patient will threaten to sue you 10 years after treatment. A judge can force you to cough up any documents, including email, related to the case in the discovery phase, but if you no longer have that information available, then you’re protected from the obligation.

You can automate defensible deletion policies using Microsoft or third-party tools.

Look for part two next week: Slimming down attachments and signatures.

Photo credit: Billsophoto via Flickr