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Cleaning Up Public Folders

Start preparing now for Microsoft's eventual transition to another repository

Earlier this year, Microsoft released a new version of the Exchange Server Public Folder Distributed Authoring and Versioning (DAV)-based Administration tool— PFDAVAdmin. Microsoft's long-term plan for public folders is to deemphasize them in Exchange Server 2007 (slated to be released early in 2007), then provide another repository in the next major Exchange release. Consequently, you'll need to migrate public-folder content you want to keep. In preparation for the transition, you can use PFDAVAdmin to help identify public folders that you can delete now.

An Essential Housekeeping Tool
Unlike Exchange System Manager (ESM), which doesn't report on public folders, PFDAVAdmin lets you extract details about them and do a variety of other tasks, including determining which public folders are being used and which aren't. This tool is based on DAV—an extension to HTTP that Microsoft uses to work with documents that reside in Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) mailboxes and public folders.

You can download PFDAVAdmin from Unpack the contents into a suitable directory on a Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, or Windows 2000 system that has Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 or later and ESM installed. You can run pfdavadmin.exe interactively, as Figure 1, shows, or in batch mode. The utility runs fairly quickly— it captured data for 94,488 folders in HP's Exchange infrastructure in less than one hour. You'll find details about how to run and use PFDAVAdmin in PFDavAdmin.doc.

Because Exchange automatically replicates the public folder hierarchy but not the folder content to other public folder servers, you should run PFDAVAdmin only on the server that hosts replicas of the public folders you want to examine. The replicas contain the content that you want to analyze; the tool produces a zero count for all folders whose content hasn't been replicated.

Sifting Through Folders
As a first step in transitioning away from public folders, you can use PFDAVAdmin to produce a content report, then load the tab-delimited file the tool generates into a spreadsheet for analysis. You can sort the data by size to identify empty folders (which are often good candidates for immediate deletion) or by creation date to find inactive folders. Be aware that running reporting, indexing, or analysis tools against public folders might change the access date on a folder and make an inactive folder appear to be active.

Tips for the Housekeeper
After you determine which folders you might be able to delete, you must decide what to do with them. After you analyze the content report, you should

  • notify folder owners. Before you delete a public folder or its contents, notify the folder's owner of the intended deletion date and wait for a response. If I don't hear from an owner within a week or so, I usually conclude that I can delete the folder.
  • develop an action plan for inactive folders. Decide what to do with folders that don't belong to current employees.
  • determine an archive policy. Before deleting folders, determine whether you need to archive content for legal purposes. I suggest archiving contents to a personal folder file (PST), especially if the folders are few and small, or to an archiving solution.
  • set item-retention limits. If you set an item-retention limit for folders you want to keep, Exchange will automatically remove old content from the folder during regular Store housekeeping runs.
  • develop a schedule. Decide how often to run PFDAVAdmin in the future to detect and clean out unwanted folders.

Aging Gracefully
After you remove obsolete public folders, you can decide what to do with those that remain. Some administrators advocate leaving existing folders in place until you can delete them, discouraging users from using public folders, and preventing users from creating new folders.

A more proactive approach is to look for a new repository, such as Windows SharePoint Services or Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2003. These products serve different functions, but either product can replace different aspects of public folders if deployed and managed properly.

If you use public folder-based forms, Microsoft recommends switching to Microsoft Office Infopath 2003 forms. If you choose this approach, you'll need to eventually recode existing forms and application logic—but not the data—and move content from public folders to the new repository.

Finally, you might need to address how users access data and applications through the network. Public folders use replication to put data and applications close to the user. But solutions such as SharePoint Portal Server don't have a replication feature, so you'll likely end up bringing users over extended network links to access data and applications on a central server. Today's network connections are fast and wide, but latency might still cause problems for users at the end of a hub-and-spoke network.

Ready for the Future
Like any utility, PFDAVAdmin isn't a magic bullet. But it can help you clean up what you have while you determine the future of public folders in your organization.

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