Although many organizations make use of Exchange Server's public folders feature, the time may be right to start phasing it out. The following is a list of possible reasons why you should get started now.
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1: Microsoft says they're going away
Since before the release of Exchange 2007, Microsoft has been telling us that public folders will eventually be discontinued. This hasn't happened just yet though. Public folders are alive and well in Exchange 2010. Even so, public folders probably won't be supported in the next version of Exchange.
2: Public folder stores can be resource intensive (full text indexing)
Public folders can rob your Exchange Server of memory, disk, and CPU resources. By offloading your public folder data, you may be able to improve your Exchange server's performance.
3: Public folders are not designed for archiving data
Many public folder stores are misused. According to Microsoft, public folders are not designed for archiving data. If you use public folders to archive Exchange data, you would be better off using a journaling mailbox instead.
4: Public folders are not designed for document sharing and collaboration
Microsoft also says public folders are not designed for document sharing and collaboration, yet that is exactly what many organizations use them for. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server is much better equipped for collaboration tasks and for document sharing than public folders have ever been.
5: Public folder data can be difficult to restore
In Exchange 2007, Microsoft introduced the recovery storage group feature as a way of making it a whole lot easier to perform granular restorations of mailbox data. Although public folders are a part of the information store, just like mailbox databases, they can't be restored using recovery storage groups. This means that if you ever have to restore a public folder, you may be in for a headache.
6: Public folders are finally optional
Prior to the release of Exchange 2010, public folders were used for storing free/busy data, and they were also used for OAB (offline address book) downloads. In Exchange 2010, however, public folders finally became an optional feature. As long as all of your clients are running Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2010, you can get rid of your public folder store.
7: The concept of public folders is dated (long filenames, indexing)
At one time, there was a good reason for using public folders. Back in the days of Exchange Server 4, not many organizations were using long file names yet, and server indexing was still primitive. Public folders provided organizations with a great way of describing their data in granular detail and indexing it. Today, though, there are better tools for the job.
8: Public folders have been deemphasized
In Exchange Server 2007, Microsoft decided to deemphasize public folders. They're still fully supported, but no new features were introduced. Public folders are also supported in Exchange 2010, but once again, there aren't any new features. Essentially, this means that public folders are a stagnant feature because they have changed very little since Exchange 2003.
9: The management tools leave a lot to be desired
When Microsoft initially released Exchange Server 2007, you had only two options for managing public folders. One option was to manage public folders from the command line, using EMS commands. The other option was to keep an Exchange 2003 server on your network and use the Exchange System Manager for public folder management. SP1 for Exchange 2007 contains GUI-based public folder management tools, as does Exchange Server 2010. Even so, the tools aren't anything to write home about.
10: Public folder data tends to collect dust
Several years back, I worked for a large organization that had an absolutely massive public folder hierarchy. The problem was that most of the public folder data had been in place since the days of Exchange 4. None of the current employees had a clue what the public folders had actually been used for, but nobody wanted to take responsibility for deleting them. My point is that you may have unimportant public folder data that's just taking up space. What better time to prune the archives?
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Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.