Exchange & Outlook UPDATE, Exchange Edition--How Big is "Larger"?--October 19, 2006

-------| Exchange & Outlook UPDATE |-------

*Commentary: How Big is "Larger"?
*A Message from Mark Minasi: New Interoperability Show
*Make Your Mark on the IT Community!
*Exchanging Ideas: Tricks and Tweaks for Maintaining Exchange Databases
*New and Improved: Protect from Spam and Viruses



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***COMMENTARY: How Big Is "Larger"?
by Paul Robichaux, Exchange Editor, [email protected]

As almost any parent knows, young children have a knack for asking difficult questions. One of my favorite question types is the "relational" question, exemplified by queries such as "How long is 'a while'?" or "How much is 'some'?" Because Microsoft's been touting the ability of Exchange Server 2007 to handle "larger" mailboxes than its predecessors, the question "How big is 'larger'?" has started to pop up more often.

First, a bit of context: Exchange doesn't have a hard limit on the size of individual mailboxes, and it never has. (I dare say it never will, but don't take that as a promise until you hear it from Microsoft.) Exchange does have limits on the size of mailbox databases, which effectively caps the size of individual mailboxes. However, average mailbox size is more often limited by other factors, notably the number of disk I/O operations per second (IOPS) available for mailbox service, the total amount of disk space available, and the number of mailboxes that can be managed on a single server.

These factors are all interrelated, and they all tie in to backup and recovery speeds. Say you want to put 2000 mailboxes on a server. You can back up 20GB per hour on that server, and your service level agreement calls for a maximum of 6 hours of downtime for restores. Because restores take roughly twice as long as backups, your server mailboxes should be limited to about 30MB each:

(3 hours x 20GB per hour) / 2000 mailboxes = 30MB per mailbox

Of course, that's with current disk sizes; in the days when a 20GB disk was big stuff, you might have settled on smaller mailboxes or fewer mailboxes per server.

Now, 250GB and larger disks are becoming commonplace in new server installations. Exchange 2007 promises a large-scale reduction in the number of IOPS required per mailbox, thanks to its 64-bit-powered ability to use large amounts of RAM for the Extensible Storage Engine cache. Microsoft says you can now use much larger mailboxes without a performance penalty. But should you?

Maybe not. Allowing mailboxes to grow without limit can be a bad decision for several reasons:

  • Large mailboxes hurt client performance. Microsoft Outlook 2000 and later do a good job of handling large mailboxes; the problem is with the number of items in the mailbox. Compared with older versions, Outlook 2007 does a better job of dealing with high item counts, but that's not necessarily true of other clients, such as Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices.
  • Large mailboxes hurt worker productivity. A commenter on the Microsoft Exchange Team Blog used the analogy of storing all your paper mail in your mailbox, instead of sorting through it and acting on or filing the important stuff. Exchange 2007 and Outlook 2007 have vastly better search capabilities than the versions we have now, but allowing unbounded mailbox growth encourages people to keep stuff they don't need just because they can.
  • For companies that have retention or compliance requirements, letting employees keep lots and lots of email in their mailboxes instead of in the archive multiplies the problems associated with tracking and retaining necessary messages.

I can already hear teeth clenching among the legions of administrators and users who hate mailbox quotas. It's true that you shouldn't impose arbitrary quotas—if you have a business requirement for large mailboxes, feel free to let them grow. However, just because you can support larger mailboxes on your existing hardware doesn't mean that you must, or even should, until you thoroughly understand the impact on compliance, productivity, and performance.

Many of the technical obstacles that limited the use of large mailboxes in older versions of Exchange, such as slow full-text search and I/O congestion, have been eliminated from Exchange 2007. If those technical limits were getting in the way of your business processes, you'll be able to move forward with allowing larger mailboxes. Just be sure you know what you're getting into.


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***A Message from Mark Minasi: New Interoperability Show

TechX World Shows You How to Make It All Fit Together
I wanted to pass along some information about a show that I'm not speaking at, but that looks like a good deal. It's a $129, one-day interoperability road show from Penton, the folks who put out Windows IT Pro magazine, the periodical that I do columns for.

If you're like most folks, "interop" isn't just a buzzword, it's a daily headache. If we all used the same operating system, directory service, and database engines, then life would be a lot easier . . . but most of us can't. Worse yet, interop info can be hard to come by because no vendor's all that excited about helping you use any products but their own.

In response to that, Penton's put together a show with four tracks, each geared to a solution. One features Dustin Puryear talking about making Windows, Linux, and Unix work together. The second offers a day of Active Directory expert Gil Kirkpatrick on integrating AD with other LDAP directory services. At the same time, database techie Randy Dyess explains how to solve data interoperability problems by making different databases replicate amongst one another and produce integrated reports, as well as how to integrate dissimilar relational database engines. Last but not least, popular Windows IT Pro veteran author Mike Otey tackles what may be the single best new IT technology of the past few years—virtualization.

TechX World is coming to DC, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas in the next few weeks, and you can find out more at


***Make Your Mark on the IT Community!

Nominate yourself or a peer to become an "IT Pro of the Month." This is your chance to get the recognition you deserve and get exclusive notoriety in the IT community. "IT Pro of the Month" winners will be featured in Windows IT Pro magazine, the TechNet Flash email newsletter, and best of all will receive over $600 in IT resources. All you have to do is email us your name, title, photo, and answers to the following questions: "How did your IT solution save your company money?" "In what ways has your solution made innovative use of technology?" and "How is your solution adaptable to other business environments?" It's easy to enter—taking October nominations now for a limited time!

To nominate someone, visit



Focus: Tricks and Tweaks for Maintaining Exchange Databases

These tasks may be automated, but they can benefit from a bit of manual intervention
Learn how to modify Exchange's automated maintenance processes to keep it running at peak performance.

Have a question? Got answers? Join your peers in the Exchange discussion forums:
Current Threads:
Exchange 2000 w/Outlook 2003—calendar moved into another default folder
Error updating the Active Directory Schema
Need Exchange "Best Practices" Guide

Don't forget to sound off in our Instant Poll. This month's question is "What are your Exchange plans for 2007?"

~~~~ Hot Spot: ~~~~

Clean Up Your Company's Email Act: Using Filters to Block Threats
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by Blake Eno, [email protected]

Protect from Spam and Viruses
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These Windows-related events, papers, and resources will help you keep your knowledge and skills up to date and help you deploy, secure, and maintain the latest Exchange- and Windows-related technologies. For more Exchange related resources, visit

Any unscheduled downtime—especially of Exchange systems—can quickly affect a company's bottom line. Learn essential skills for reducing downtime to minutes instead of hours.

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