Members sound off: How to save an overwhelmed e-mail server

Members came to the rescue when one IT manager asked for advice about persuading upper management to deal with an e-mail server crisis. Here's what they had to say.

When the information store on one IT manager’s company’s Exchange 5.5 Standard server rapidly approached the size at which it would simply cease to function, the IT manager asked for suggestions on how to persuade upper management to either support the imposition of mailbox size limits or to provide funding for an upgrade.

Persuading upper management to support any type of proposal for upgrading the e-mail server, or for changing how it is managed, will obviously take some time. And during this time the information store (IS) will continue to grow, possibly to the point of shutting down. To address this immediate space need—and avert a crisis—members offered the following ideas:
  • R. D. Pflueger suggested having the “users move the e-mail messages they want to save to a shared network drive.” This preserves the messages’ Outlook Message format but removes them from the information store.
  • Scott Lowe proposed the use of PST files as a temporary measure. While this plan “is wrought with its own problems, it will keep your e-mail services running at least.”

In terms of attaining a more permanent solution, several members suggested the following strategies for approaching upper management:
  • Cost of inaction: Member bajan_em suggested documenting “the potential cost to the company in terms of lost man hours (for everyone who uses e-mail) and the cost to recover from a crash, potential loss of customer business due to the interruption of electronic communication, and the potential loss of e-mail if the IS becomes corrupted.”
  • Legal implications: Member wvanexe said, “One argument for e-mail restriction that worked for [my department] was the threat of legal ramifications should the company ever be sued. All e-mail will be used against the company. Look at Enron for an example.” Having a document retention policy in place could protect the company.

But what if upper management simply refuses to cooperate? Some members, laboring under similar restrictions, shared their solutions:
  • Robert.provenzano said that he “charged the departments for the storage they were using on the mail server.” This resulted in a 50 percent reduction in mail storage in the first week.
  • Tim.walsh found that publishing a weekly list “of the top mail users and top departmental users” was a useful strategy. He also suggested launching a campaign aimed at the users, explaining “what hard limitations you have to deal with, the lack of money to implement any other fixes, and the impact if the impending disaster materializes”.
    Member deptrak offered more suggestions for gaining the user’s cooperation through education: “Show them that the Sent Items can be cleaned out [and] that they need to clean out the Deleted Items folder…. Teach the users; make it an event.”
  • A few members suggested filtering spam to reduce the potential amount of mail being saved in the information store.
  • Michaellotr suggested designating, “a couple times a year as a cleaning week for your e-mail. Send reminders ahead of time. Give the users alternatives for where to keep their e-mail. The options could be archiving, printing (yikes), saving attachments to the appropriate locations, and so on.”
  • Other members suggested configuring Outlook clients to “Empty Deleted Items folder on exit.”

And, finally, spamcracker had some excellent words of advice that are applicable to this and many other situations in which IT managers require the support of upper management:
“If you go to [upper management] with issues, and then somehow always seem to find a way around the issues that temporarily fix the problem, you are only delaying the inevitable, while at the same time telling your CFO and CEO, "See! We could have fixed this all along, and we didn't have to spend any money to do it." In a way, you have dug your own hole.”

The solution
So what did the IT manager actually do? As many of the users suggested above, she successfully managed to reduce the size of the information store by applying several of the mentioned strategies of educating and persuading the users to cooperate. While her official appeals to upper management largely fell on deaf ears, her constant haranguing finally caught the attention of the CEO who was delighted to learn that one of the prime offenders was a VP with whom he had an ongoing conflict. Seeing this as another opportunity to make the VP’s life miserable, the CEO self-righteously cleaned up his own mailbox before engaging the VP in a very public battle over the size of his mailbox.

The end result? Two of the main offenders ended up with significantly reduced mailboxes, and there was a memo from the CEO to all VPs eliciting their opinion on the imposition of limits. Limits are yet to be imposed, but with an information store now at 60 percent of capacity, the IT manager is breathing a well-deserved sigh of relief.


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