Microsoft finally sees sense about multi-mailbox searches

A certain amount of joy erupted across the Exchange community after last Friday’s announcement on the EHLO blog that Microsoft had decided to remove multi-mailbox searches from the set of Exchange 2010 features that are licensed through an Enterprise Client Access License (ECAL). The announcement says:

“Multi-Mailbox Search required an Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) for each mailbox searched. We’ve heard your feedback on how you use this feature and the licensing requirements. Today we’re making a change to Exchange 2010 licensing so you’ll no longer require an Enterprise CAL for Multi-Mailbox Search.”

I always thought that it was a bit silly to require an ECAL for mailboxes that were liable to be searched. After all, the whole purpose of having multi-mailbox searches is to be able to find information that’s needed to satisfy a legal discovery action or to satisfy some other appropriate reason for administrators to delve deep into the innards of user mailboxes. It does make sense to require an ECAL for those who perform multi-mailbox searches as these folk are by definition using the feature. Penalizing “normal” mailboxes simply because their contents are being searched doesn’t seem quite so sensible. Put another way, it’s pretty insane.

The problem with any multi-mailbox search is that you don’t necessarily know what mailboxes need to be searched before you start, nor do you know what mailboxes will actually contain anything of interest to the search, or which mailboxes are in fact licensed to be searched. Of course, Exchange 2010 will perform the search anyway because the code doesn’t cares about the presence of a normal CAL or ECAL.

I guess you could operate on the basis that every mailbox is licensed with an ECAL because the owners of these mailboxes will probably want to use some of the extended Exchange 2010 features covered by the ECAL anyway, such as archive mailboxes. That approach is fine and is simple to administer because you just go and buy ECALs for all, but it’s probably not the best solution unless you want to hand over lots of money to Microsoft for what might be some unnecessary licenses.

Another approach is to restrict multi-mailbox searches to those mailboxes that you know are properly licensed with an ECAL. The multi-mailbox search UI allows you to restrict searches to a list of specific mailboxes and I guess that those who create searches could be given a list of duly licensed mailboxes and told to restrict their queries appropriately. But this is also silly because the whole purpose of multi-mailbox searches is to find material that is required to satisfy some legal or regulatory requirement and you cannot operate on the basis of artificially restricted searches. No judge would be satisfied by the results of such a search, for instance.

To complete the task, Microsoft will also have to update the script (ReportExchangeCALs.ps1) used by the Exchange Management Console (EMC) to calculate and report eCALs so that its logic no longer looks for searched mailboxes. No doubt an update is in the works.

Overall the change to remove the need for a mailbox to have an ECAL before it can be searched is simply sensible. It’s surprising that it’s taken Microsoft this long to figure things out, especially since Office 365 (Exchange Online) allows even the lowest of the low (that’s Plan P subscribers like me) to perform multi-mailbox searches to their hearts’ content.

Update: Microsoft subsequently clarified matters by emphasizing that the change in licensing for multi-mailbox searches won't take effect until October 1, 2012 when they update their Product Use Rights (PUR). Apparently it takes time for even the world's largest software company to update internal systems...

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