Users love e-mail because it is fast, convenient, and ubiquitous. IT managers hate it for the same reasons when heavy e-mail traffic containing large attachments begins to clog networks and devour server space.

TechRepublic member Jim Glaser suggests one way to keep e-mail use in check and e-mail-related costs low: Ban the sending of large attachments via e-mail throughout an organization. However, Glaser offers his users a public system network in which they can store attachments and then hyperlink to them.

How to combat e-mail glut
As IS manager for the United States Coast Guard Facilities Design and Construction Center Atlantic, Glaser knows about e-mail’s dark side. “E-mail is probably the biggest consumer of disk drive space created by man,” he said.

Joseph Edwards, a senior network administrator for eLink Communications, an ISP in Bethesda, MD, agreed. “…if you let everyone send any amount of attachments they want and store anything they want in their e-mail, then you’re going to have to buy more disk space,” said Edwards.

Glaser knows e-mail can quickly choke a system. “Its prolific ability to replicate messages and attachments is well known throughout the technology community,” he said.

The replication happens when one user sends an attachment to each individual in an organization. In an organization with 50 users, when one user sends an e-mail with a 10-MB attachment to 49 users, suddenly, the e-mail system is processing 490 MBs of unnecessary information.

If more than one user repeats the process, the attachments can cause some serious headaches for IT managers and network administrators.

To reduce this type of e-mail glut, Glaser created public system network and Web folders in which users can store attachments. After a user places a document in a folder, he or she simply e-mails a hyperlink or shortcut to the document instead of attaching it to the e-mail.

“This is a simple idea, but (one that’s) not heavily utilized by the industry,” said Glaser.

A financial benefit
Glaser’s strategy keeps large numbers of duplicated attachments out of his e-mail servers. The strategy also keeps IT costs low in a number of ways. Using public network folders for attachments:

  • Frees up administrators to work on mission-critical projects instead of spending time on the difficult job of hunting down network-clogging attachments. “E-mail even hides large attachments within itself such that network administrators can’t easily find these documents for later system-wide disposal,” said Glaser.
  • Keeps you from buying more disk and server space.
  • Frees up space on the e-mail or Microsoft Exchange servers and keeps them clean and running smoothly. “It’s always good to keep attachments off of an Exchange server,” said TechRepublic systems administrator Michael Laun, who explained that duplicated attachments will hog bandwidth, slow connectivity, and lower the quality of service.
  • Decreases the overall manpower you need for server maintenance and backups. “When you start to get a bunch of attachments, your database starts growing uncontrollably large. It takes a long time to back up the database,” said Laun.

Setting up public folders should be easy. “Every Exchange Server has public folders,” said Edwards. However, if you want to keep excess folders and attachments off the Exchange Server or other e-mail server, you can create public folders on file servers. “Most companies have quite a bit of storage space on their file servers,” said Edwards.

Laun agreed that folders are generally easier to take care of if they’re on a file server. “They’re (file servers) doing what their designed to do, so they’re going to be more efficient,” he said.

Why it might not work
Setting up public folders for attachments is a simple idea, but persuading users to adopt a new way to use e-mail can be tricky. “It’s a training issue,” said Laun.

The key to user adoption is to start slow and give them time to warm up to a new way of using e-mail. “If you want them to follow the guidelines that you give them, then you have to show them some level of respect or they won’t do it,” said Laun.

“You kind of have to sugarcoat it because no one likes to be told to change their way of doing things,” said Edwards.

Edwards said if users are shown that a public folder is an efficient way to send and receive information and that clicking on a link to open an attachment is essentially the same as sending it, they will likely use the new method. “It has to be something that is easy for them,” said Edwards.

If this doesn’t work, managers should set guidelines for users to follow. “It becomes such an administrative nightmare over time that it makes no sense to just let things keep getting worse and worse,” said Laun.

Managers can ease users into certain guidelines by setting size limits on e-mail mailboxes. “As a network administrator, you can kind of be forceful without anybody really knowing,” said Edwards. Edwards explained that he can set a 2-MB limit on any mailbox. After a mailbox limit is set, a document above 2 MB can’t go out of or through an organization. That’s when Edwards shows users how easy public folders can be. “Users will do it if they know how, generally,” said Laun.

Tell us how you save money

Do you have any other cost-saving tips related to e-mail use or data storage? What strategy does your shop follow to curb spending? Tell us by starting a discussion below or dropping us a line.