Using MRM to Manage Mailboxes

Reduce email storage and help your Exchange organization comply with security or legal requirements

Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 introduces a set of new features collectively called Messaging Records Management (MRM). MRM allows Exchange administrators to set rules and policies that automatically manage the content of users' mailboxes. This helps to reduce the disk space required to store mailbox content as well as help organizations with security and compliance regulations.

Driven by a need to reduce the disk space that users' mailbox content takes up on the server and to help maintain certain security or legal policies (as in the case of email retention), Exchange administrators have long sought a tool that would automate the management of this content.

Earlier versions of Exchange Server were not as feature rich as Exchange Server 2007 in terms of records management (known by some as email lifecycle management). We had features such as mailbox quotas and other management settings in Exchange 2003. Maybe some of you are familiar with the Mailbox Manager in Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2000. If you're an Exchange 5.5 veteran, you may even remember the Mailbox Cleanup Agent. But Exchange 2007 introduces a set of new features collectively referred to as Messaging Records Management (MRM), which allows you to work with messages that are considered "at rest." That is, they're already in a person’s mailbox and residing in a folder (Inbox, Deleted Items, or even a Custom folder). MRM is handled on the Mailbox Server side and lets the administrator create rules for the Exchange organization to manage messages that meet a specific criteria. So, let's look at some possible scenarios in which you might use MRM and then I'll walk you through the steps to configure default and custom folder management.

Understanding MRM Scenarios
To fully understand the power of MRM, you need to consider what users have in their mailbox. They have a set of default folders (e.g., Inbox, Sent Items, Notes) automatically provided with the creation of the mailbox. In addition, the Administrator can create Custom folders that show up in their mailbox too. These folders give users plenty of locations to store messages. But the messages might be email messages, voicemail messages, or faxes. They also might be Journal, RSS, or Task items. In other words, a user's mailbox is filled with plenty of opportunities to grow and consume storage space.

MRM is a useful tool for helping you gain control of your users' ever-expanding mailbox content. You can use MRM to purge content from the mailbox, to move content to another folder within a mailbox (and then perhaps purge it), copy items in a mailbox (and then perhaps move or purge it), define maximum folder sizes, or archive the content in these folders. In working with MRM you may find that the features we just outlined become somewhat askew when attempting to implement the policies you need. As a first run feature set in Exchange 2007, MRM is a very powerful set of rules that you can implement, but it's wrapped up within a very complicated set of steps to implement those policies. Personally, I find MRM in Exchange 2007 to be an excellent tool for messages at rest (much like its counterpart Transport Rules for messages in transit.) However, while Transport Rules are relatively easy to establish and implement, MRM is mind boggling at times. It’s easy to get lost in the steps, so follow along closely and maybe take some notes.

Before you implement your MRM solution, there are many things to consider. For example, which folders do you want to enforce policies on? Do you want to apply a policy to all folders in a mailbox? Are you looking to purge content (i.e., delete it permanently)? Do you want to make a copy of that content before purging it? Do you want to move it first, give users a chance to see it for a period of time, and then purge it, after you copy it?

You also need to think about which types of messages you want to control. All message types? Voicemail and faxes only? If you purge items from the Deleted Items folder, will you purge voicemails after 30 days, faxes after 60, and messages after 120? You also need to know whether there are any legal or regulatory ramifications in any purge operation. Each administrator should know the laws for his or her environment.

Finally, you need to consider whether you'll need custom folders for your plan and which default folders you'll need additional instances of in order to make all the desired policy settings. The benefit of creating more than one instance (even though users will still see only one folder) is so that you can create different content settings for the different instances, and then create different policies for each instance. Each environment will be unique, but let's consider a few reasonable scenarios that should help you understand and plan your own MRM solution.

Keeping the Deleted Items folder clean. Users do, at times, delete items. You send an email saying “Please clean up your Inbox” and they do. And those deleted messages go right into their Deleted Items folder, where they still take up the same amount of storage space. Getting users to go forward and delete these items can sometimes be difficult. They like having a safety net. So, one possible use of MRM is to create a policy that removes items within the Deleted Items folder that are older than a specified retention time. (Note: You can see this demonstrated in this screencast.)

Moving content to an alternate location. If you want to have your users more involved in the process of purging and give them the opportunity to see what is going to be removed, you can create a Custom Folder (let’s call it Cleanup Folder) and create a setting that moves items that are beyond a certain retention period into that cleanup folder. You can then create another setting that permanently deletes items within that folder that are older than a specified retention time. Be aware that communication is a huge issue in any MRM project. If you don’t take the time to educate users as to why you have created this folder, what causes items to be moved there, how long the items are retained, and when they will be removed (and how they can be recovered), you will cause huge angst in the user community not to mention a terrific volume of calls to the Help desk.

Configuring MRM Default and Custom Folders
Let’s walk through the two scenarios presented above so that you can see, from beginning to end, the process of creating a managed folder instance, configuring managed content settings, applying those settings within a policy, and applying that policy to a user.

Keeping the deleted items folder clean. Users already have a set of default folders in their mailboxes for which you might want to create policies. The Inbox, Sent Items, and Deleted Items are all default folders. You can view them from within the Exchange Management Console (EMC), under the Organization Configuration section of the Mailbox node. When you select the Managed Default Folders tab, you'll see the familiar default mailbox folders, as Figure 1 shows.

You can create an additional instance of the Deleted Items folder and configure the managed content settings on that instance, or you can use the default instance. To create a new instance, select New Managed Default Folder from the Actions pane. Enter a Name (to distinguish it from other instances of the folder) and choose the Default Folder Type (in this case, Deleted Items), then click New. Now you'll see the additional instance directly beneath your default Deleted Items instance. Highlight the new instance, and from the Actions pane, choose New Managed Content Settings. On this screen you enter the name of the managed content and the Message type (e.g., All Mailbox Content, Faxes, Voicemails, Meeting Requests), as well as desired retention period settings, as Figure 2 shows.

The settings in this example show that after 60 days (from when the item is moved to the Deleted Items folder), it will be permanently deleted. Click Next and you'll see an option to Journal or make a copy of the messages by forwarding them to a mailbox you've established. That way, they are still recoverable for a period. If you don't need this functionality, click Next. You'll see a summary of the settings. If they are correct, select New to create the setting.

The next step is to create a policy. To do this, from the Actions pane, select New Managed Folder Mailbox Policy to start the wizard. Give the policy a name and click Add. You are allowed to select only the instance of a particular folder. You can't pick and choose the settings beneath it. So, you need to give some thought to the number of instances you need and the settings for those instances that you wish to apply before you jump in and create a policy. Keep in mind too that you can apply only one policy per user. So, the policy you create must contain all the settings you want to establish for a user. (You can, however, through additional instances and settings, create different policy types to apply to different users.).

Next, you need to apply the policy to users mailboxes. You can do this during the creation of the mailbox account, as Figure 3 shows. Then after the policy is created you simply assign it to the mailbox. You can also apply a policy to accounts that are already created. Simply open the Mailbox properties from the EMC and under Mailbox Settings, select Messaging Records Management. Then go to Properties and turn on the policy. You can also define a period of time when the policy shouldn’t apply, as you can see in Figure 4.

But let’s be reasonable. When you deal with any level of bulk policy application, the EMC is not the best tool. In this case, you could use the following PowerShell cmdlet within the Exchange Management Shell (EMS):

Set-Mailbox –ManagedFolderMailboxPolicy “name of policy”

You can use this cmdlet with an individual mailbox. For example, if you have a mailbox for RSanford and the policy is called Executive Policy, you would type

Set-Mailbox “RSanford” –ManagedFolderMailboxPolicy “Executive Policy”

But if you want to enforce a policy in bulk, you could apply it to a group (e.g., a Distribution Group). So, you might first use the Get-DistributionGroupMember cmdlet or the Get-Mailbox cmdlet, and then pipe the results (using the | character) to the Set-Mailbox cmdlet using the –Managed FolderMailboxPolicy setting.

For example, assuming you've already created the policy, if you want to apply the policy to all the users within a particular data store you could use the following EMS command:

Get-Mailbox | Where\{$_.Database -eq "ServerName\StorageGroupName\DatabaseName"\} | Set-Mailbox -ManagedFolderMailboxPolicy "Policy Name"

where the Get-Mailbox command gets the list of all mailboxes. The "Where\{$_.Database -like "ServerName\StorageGroupName\DatabaseName"\} creates a filter that creates a list of all mailboxes that are on the mailbox store "Database Name," and output goes to the Set-Mailbox command. Then the Set-Mailbox command sets the Managed Folder policy “Policy Name” for filtered mailboxes that are on "Database Name".

Finally, you have to configure the mailbox servers to schedule and run the managed folder assistant. If this assistant doesn’t run, no custom folders are created and no policy settings are enforced. To configure this, you need to open the EMC. Expand Server Configuration and select the Mailbox node. Select the Mailbox server for which you want to enable the messaging assistant and select Properties from the Actions pane. Select the Messaging Records Management tab, as Figure 5 shows. You can see by default that the assistant is scheduled to Never Run. Click the down arrow and select Use Custom Schedule. Use the Customize options to create the schedule for running the assistant. You don’t want this to take up more time on your server than needed, so you might want to select 15-minute increments a few times per day.

Using Custom Folders to Cleanup or Organize Information. Within Outlook, administrators can create personal folders to use for all sorts of cleanup and organizational tasks. You might wonder why an administrator would create a custom folder that all users would have within Outlook (beyond the defaults). Well, you could use it to encourage users to clean up their mailboxes. It might also serve as a method to protect important data. For example, if you want users to put company confidential information into a particular folder, you could create a custom folder and then apply managed content settings to that folder to ensure the protection of confidential information.

To use a custom folder to clean up users' mailboxes, you'll create a custom folder, then follow the same steps as outlined earlier. To create the custom folder, open the Organization Configuration section under the Mailbox node. Select New Managed Custom Folder. After you create the custom folder, you have the following options:

  • Create managed settings directly on that custom folder and instruct users to move items into the Custom Folder that you want to have either deleted or archived (depending on the folder you create).
  • Create the custom folder, but use the managed folder settings on your default folders to move items over to the Custom folder. From that point, if you also have settings on the custom folder, the desired action will be taken on that content.

The Labyrinth that Is MRM
It is somewhat of a maze to figure out the process involved in setting up MRM: from determining the scenario you want to deploy to configuring the settings you want to apply to a default or custom folder that you want to have managed. I hope that you can see the potential situations for which you might use this new feature in Exchange 2007 and that you can go forward and establish the proper instances, settings, and policies necessary to have your MRM ease your storage stress and help you comply with security or legal requirements for your company.

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