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Get IT Done: Three methods for cleaning up an Exchange 5.5 server

Learn three ways to clean out Exchange 5.5.

In a previous article, I mentioned the importance of data retention policies and discussed how files and e-mails left on mail servers could potentially harm a company. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to follow up by sharing three methods available for Exchange administrators to clean up their servers. Of course, there are more alternatives out there than the ones I’ll discuss here. If you have found a better way we would like to hear about it. Share your story by posting a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.

Manual cleaning
Manual cleaning is available for all flavors of Exchange. Although it is by far the most cumbersome method, it is also the most versatile. To perform manual cleaning, you must first open the Exchange Administrator program. After selecting a mailbox, click on Tools and select Clean Mailbox. Now, you can set which type of messages are cleaned out and specify whether they should be removed immediately. You can also determine which types of messages are moved to the Deleted Items folder for final deletion at a later date. The big part missing from this approach is that you can’t specify time limits for the different folders. It will clean ALL the folders in a user’s mailbox according to your settings. This could be a problem if you want time limits for individual folders.

The Mailbox Cleanup Agent
The Mailbox Cleanup Agent is available on the BackOffice 4.5 Resource Kit under Exchange Utilities. The install is fairly simple, although documentation is limited to a small help file. The Agent runs as a service on the Exchange server, and you can’t use the Exchange Administrator program on another machine to change its settings.

You must configure the Mailbox Cleanup Agent on a container-by-container basis. With the Agent, you can clean the Inbox, Sent Items, and what is designated as All Other Folders. Also, e-mail can be dumped to something called the System Cleanup folder, then later to the Deleted Items folder. I set the Agent to send all removed items to the Deleted Items folder and then set the Deleted Items folder to permanently delete its messages for the lowest age set in the Inbox, Sent Items, or All Other Folders. Here’s an example:
  • Inbox and Sent Items are set to clean all messages older then 60 days.
  • All Other Folders is set to clean all messages older then 365 days.
  • The Deleted Items folder is set to remove all messages older then 60 days, which will then remove the messages from all folders when it processes it in the end.

You can set the maximum number of items to process, exclude mailboxes, and send a message (custom or standard) to the users when it’s finished. I decided against having it send a message and unchecked the box. But no matter how many times I checked/unchecked the option, the Agent always sent out a message. The schedule option was much the same. I would tell it to go once a week, but it would go every day. I would tell it to go every day and it would do it every other day. Whenever you change the schedule, it is recommended that you stop and restart the service.

The Mailbox Cleanup Agent, while included by MS on the Resource Kit, is not terrific. But if you’re not running Exchange 5, it may be your only option. Keep in mind when working with it that it’s not officially supported by Microsoft Support Services. However, I found several Microsoft Knowledge Base articles that listed the Mailbox Cleanup Agent under Exchange 4.0, 5.0, and 5.5. Which service packs are required is unknown. I’ve had the Agent work somewhat successfully on Exchange 5.5 SP2 and SP3, so if you’re at this level, you should be okay. If not, you may want to contact Microsoft for more information. If you’re running Exchange on a DEC Alpha computer, you must install the Agent on an Intel server that is connected to the site you need to clean.

Mailbox Manager
Mailbox Manager is a breath of fresh air after the Mailbox Cleanup Agent. If you have the Mailbox Cleanup Agent installed, you need to remove it first by running the Agent’s Setup program. Once you finish uninstalling the Agent, go to the Exchange 5.5 SP3 CD, located at ENG\SERVER\SUPPORT\MBMNGR\SETUP\I386 and install Mailbox Manager. The install takes more configuration, but the process is simple and straightforward. Located in the same folder is a HTML-format user’s manual, which takes you from installation to configuration. This product is officially supported by Microsoft Support Services.
Mailbox Manager is compatible with these versions of Exchange:
  • Exchange 5.0 Standard/Enterprise Edition SP2 and later
  • Exchange 5.5 Standard/Enterprise Edition SP2 and later

Once Mailbox Manager is installed, you can configure it from the Exchange Administrator on the server or from a remote computer. To find the configuration area, go into the Add-Ins section under the server where you installed Mailbox Manager. The configuration is very simple and to the point. Mailbox Manager offers several notable advantages over the Mailbox Cleanup Agent:
  • The ability to clean mailboxes on demand
  • The ability to clean all folders according to their own individual settings
  • Settings to remove items immediately
  • A notification to the mailbox of your choice that tells you whether the cleanup was successful and adds a .csv file listing where and how much the Mailbox Manager cleaned up
  • The ability to set logging levels

And here’s another bonus: You don’t have to restart the service after changing settings. The configuration pages are similar to the Agent in look and feel. You just have more to work with. If you haven’t upgraded to 5.0 or higher, it’s time to do so now—especially if you need to clean mailboxes.
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