Doubling of Exchange Online mailbox sizes leaves me cold

Doubling of Exchange Online mailbox sizes leaves me cold

Please forgive me, but I cannot become excited at the news from Redmond that Microsoft has doubled mailbox sizes for Exchange Online to 50GB. The previous 25GB was plenty big enough for me and it seems like mailbox sizes have become the “mine is bigger than yours” measurement between Microsoft and its major online competitor.

I realize that I might be sounding like a cynic here, so let me explain why the news leaves me cold.

First, on a purely practical level, the number of users who will be able to make use of a 50GB mailbox is relatively small. If you look at any large-scale enterprise deployment of Exchange, you’ll invariably discover that the vast bulk of the user community have relatively small mailboxes. Sure, those mailboxes have grown steadily over the years from the paltry 25MB-50MB norms seen with Exchange 4.0, but my guess is that 2GB marks the outer boundary for many users. Very large mailboxes (more than 25GB) are important because they belong to critical users (such as the CEO) or those who have to retain email for long periods, but they are not as common as you’d imagine.

Second, it’s not as if Microsoft has suddenly gone to the market and purchased tons of storage to accommodate these large mailboxes. In fact, if even 25% of the Office 365 user base was to become the human equivalent of pack rats and expanded their mailbox storage to 25GB or beyond, it would cost Microsoft a lot to provision and manage all the additional storage required. All hosting providers operate on the basis that maximum mailbox sizes are notional. Few people fill those mailboxes so the full amount of storage is never required. It would therefore make little difference if Microsoft set their maximum at 100GB.

Third, it takes time to accumulate large amounts of email. My mailbox is relatively busy and I store lots of PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets in its folders. However, my mailbox stays at roughly 2GB and never really gets much bigger than 2GB. I do not use PSTs – everything is online. I do have an archive mailbox and do move information there, but only on an irregular basis. Exchange’s Managed Folder Assistant (MFA) is better at deciding that items should be archived than I.

Others will have different experiences and indeed, how mailboxes are organized and what they store is highly personal. Some are very good at cleaning out mailboxes and organizing their lives according to well-structured folder hierarchies. Others are a mess and leave messages to pile up in huge folders, relying on search facilities to find items should they be needed. So I understand that there are many who have 10GB+ mailboxes who will positively revel in the news that they’ll be able to store thousands of additional messages online. However, I hold to my view that these folk are in the minority.

Last, I am not sure that corporate email administrators will have enjoyed the news. Larger mailboxes on the online side of a hybrid deployment mean pressure for the on-premises side too. And moving mailboxes around has suddenly become more difficult because more data has to be shipped across the Internet between the two sides of the hybrid. Mailboxes move in the background and users can continue to work while the move progresses, but more data is more data is the potential for more problems.

More data can be bad news for clients too as Outlook has to synchronize online folders with its offline cache (OST). Outlook 2013 makes it easier to manage large OSTs because a slider control is available to allow the user to determine how much data is synchronized between server and client, but Exchange Online still supports many Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 clients that don’t have this capability.

I don’t want to rain on the parade of those who look forward to large mailboxes. Enjoy the 50GB. More is coming – at this rate we should be at 100GB limits within 2 years and 1TB mailboxes in five. Won’t that be something wonderful to contemplate?

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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