A glance at a typical user’s e-mail inbox is likely to show a staggering amount of old messages consuming valuable storage space. A recent Gartner Research Note, “Sizing the e-mail mailbox: Less is more,” outlined the problems of user e-mail management and its effects on organizations.

The resulting discussion in IT Consultant Republic is proof that the issue of cluttered mailboxes has become, unfortunately, near and dear to many IT professionals. This selection of member comments outlines some ways that members are dealing with an overabundance of backlogged e-mail.

Setting limits
Most members agree that setting a file-size limit is a good practice for keeping old messages to a minimum. With a cap on the amount of mail that the system will support, users are forced to sift through their e-mail folders and conduct some basic housecleaning. System administrator Chuck Capps uses this approach:

“My users are allowed 100 MB of space. At 80 percent they begin getting warnings, at 90 percent they are not allowed to send any e-mail out, and at 110 percent they cannot send or receive.”

Michel Marcon, a system administrator with the French Ministry of Equipment, sets his users’ limit at 60 MB. “We use the native configuration of Exchange 5.5 that warns the user of the 60-MB limit.”

Dealing with pack rats
Some users may have a genuine need to archive old messages. Others may just be e-mail pack rats who like to hold on to every forwarded joke, photograph, or lunch meeting request that they receive. Several members suggest methods for satisfying these types of users while also freeing up disk space.

In the past, when Capps’ users have exceeded storage limits, he has “shown a few users how to archive to their own PC (at their risk of losing mail if the HD fails).” These users have a choice: Meet the size limit or risk losing the archived data on the hard drive.

Member Michael Mercado sets up personal folders for user storage.

“Because the personal folder is a file, it can reside anywhere as long as the e-mail client points to it. Thus, you can save and access that personal folder file on a network share.“

Mercado realizes the problems with this approach. Personal folders can expand exponentially and quickly consume server storage space. Member wrightwe monitors users’ e-mail habits and reminds forgetful users to use personal folders.

“If the user’s personal folder gets to be over 200-300 MB on the file server, I will burn the personal folder onto a CD and create a new personal folder for the user.

“Once burned to CD, I’ll copy the CD-archived mail to the user’s local hard drive, switch off the read-only archive bit, and open the archived e-mail so the user can still read it in Outlook.”

According to Robert Wilson, CD archives—though useful for users—can spell out legal issues for the organization.

“I know one company that was diligent about deleting mail files of ex-employees so that they could avoid court subpoenas to provide data in lawsuits. If you burn CDs and hand them out, you have an exposure you can’t control.”

Communication is key
No matter what one does to curb the amount of storage space consumed by old e-mail messages, it’s important to let users know what’s being done about it. Karen Austin, an operations training specialist, works for a company that has a limit on storage, but none of the users knew about the restriction.

“Most of us found out about it when they ‘cleaned out’ the server. There was no prior notice. All of a sudden things were just missing from people’s mailboxes.”

E-mail administrator Derick Cook established a resource to educate users about his organization’s e-mail policies.

“The public folder (set up as Notes) is called Outlook 98 Tips and Traps. It includes all the relevant topics relating to managing e-mail.”
Do you have suggestions for dealing with the problem of old e-mail messages and the users that harbor them? Join the discussion and share your policies, plans, or opinions.