Thursday, 9 April 2009

Email me

I do actually remember sending my first email. It would have been around 1990 - I had been playing with PCs for about 3 years. I had managed to get some odd bits & pieces of equipment from an auction; one of these was a modem that ran at a blistering 2,400 bits per second. And in those days, there was no plug and play, you had to create files that would contain the necessary commands to make the hardware work.

In my case, it actually took several days to get it working, but finally I managed to get it to dial out on command. The only problem then was what to connect to - there were not the ISPs we have nowadays. I actually managed to connect to a Bulletin Board Service (BBS) that I think was based in North London; I remember watching with fascination as the screen suddenly displayed a list of numerical options - of course no GUIs in those days. I vaguely remember that to post a message was option 5; I sent some messages to a couple of people, but there weren't that many people you could mail.

Of course it has all changed now; email is a major tool of the business and it is difficult to imagine how we could work effectively without using it. Every department relies heavily on being able to contact others, both inside and outside the company. And unfortunately, this leads to some major problems. Previously, the company had very few effective controls on the email and no email policies at all. I made my self quite unpopular because I insisted on setting these controls in place and worst of all, enforcing them with total rigidity.

To begin with, we upgraded to Exchange 2003 from 5.5 which was quite a task in itself - nothing had been prepared and the AD wasn't quite right. Later we had to move from an older server to a newer rack mounted device with more processors, memory and storage, and that process was much easier - in fact one of the easiest migrations I've ever had to do. We also started to get people moved from all different varieties of Outlook onto one version (2003); it took several months, but we got there.

Among the changes we made was to implement a fixed limit on mailbox sizes - just 200 Mb. Now for most people that is not a problem; but we regularly keep an eye on the sizes, and every time, it's the same names that appear close to the limit. I regularly get asked to increase the size limit but refuse; if I increase it, they will just let it run to the new higher limit, then complain that isn't enough.

To provide some assistance, I set-up space for mail to be archived to a .pst file on a designated space on a server, so it gets backed up as well. People have been shown how to archive, but you could be forgiven for thinking that we hadn't as so many users still don't seem to be able to do this.

We also limit the size of attachments on incoming and outgoing mail to 5 Mb. You would not believe the number of emails that get rejected due to the size of attachments - and the size of some of these; we still get complaints that a mail won't go through when it has a 20 or 30 Mb attachment. We've shown pople how to use other methods of transferring files, but they just don't want to know. As an example, I checked the mail logs yesterday and there was another incoming mail rejected from a user at our parent company in Germany - the person had attached a spreadsheet of 14 Mb, and sent copies to 5 other users in Germany, and 6 in the UK. When it failed, the person then re-sent it to all 11 people twice more!

Still, I suppose that I can't complain; the system is now working really well (apart from the users!) - we have even managed to add the domain for our French company to the system and they now connect to us for their email. Il marche tres bien! In fact, it looks as though they are particularly impressed as we fix issues for them far quicker than their previous host.

Just now have to wait for Exchange 2010....

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