Tuesday, 9 June 2009

You don't want to do it like that .....

A few weeks ago, I was invited to go to another company. Whilst there, I had the chance to talk to a couple of their IT people about some of the issues that they face.

One of the first things that I discovered was that they have a real problem with their Exchange Server – it regularly stops working because the database un mounts. I was interested to know why, because we have only had that happen to us once in 4 years; and that was just after we had migrated from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003.

It appears that their mailbox database is 85 GB in size; quite a bit over the 75 GB that is referred to in all the material on Exchange. All of the stuff that I found indicates that this will cause regular un mounting of the database due to the limits of the product (Standard edition).

I was a bit surprised at the size of their mail store – ours is just over 16 GB in size and we have about the same number of users. I told them that we operate a rigid set of limits – 200 MB per user for their mailbox and no attachments over 5 MB in size. They were astonished that we could get away with that; they told me that their users would be very unhappy at such limits. But as I asked them, are the users happy that the email system goes offline several times a week?

We’ve found that if you allow certain people more space, they just push it to the limit and if you then give them more, they will just save more rubbish. We’ve had people delete files, then leave these in the deleted folder – just in case they want to refer to the mail. We’ve had people keep emails from 10 years ago – in many cases the sender or recipient concerned are no longer around. Unfortunately, our experience shows that users will not manage their mailboxes unless you force them to.

We also found that people were just emailing files without even thinking about what they were doing; no attempt to compress or even check if it was appropriate to email the files. The worst case was someone from a sister company sending in a .pdf file of 80MB – to make it worse, the recipient was the CEO and he only wanted the one page from the document, not the whole file. We also regularly get people sending large files to multiple recipients – a few weeks ago, someone tried to email a software attachment of 8 MB to 20 people.

So we enforce the limits with absolute rigidity, and for the most part our users are used to this. We do allow them to archive off some mail to data files that are stored separately on a server – and these are then backed up as part of our normal backup routine. As a result, we get very few problems – this would indicate that our way of working is efficient and therefore other people would be wise to follow what we do.

However, what works for us most definitely would not work for other people. I’m aware that there are people that need to keep emails for much longer and are not allowed to delete anything as they have to keep records of all contacts for regulatory reasons. There is a tendency for IT people to assume that what they do will work for everyone – a bit like the Harry Enfield character who insists “You don’t what to do it like that, you want to do ….”

Unfortunately, in many cases, the person so insistent that he knows the best way to do something is unaware of all the facts. I had exactly that a few years ago; someone insisted that I could fix a problem by doing a particular thing to the TCP/IP settings. When I pointed out that we were using IPX/SPX, it meant nothing to him – he had never worked with NetWare and didn’t understand the difference between the two networking protocols.

Despite this, I am of the view that we could do a lot more in the industry to pass information on good practice around between people. In our department, we regularly find hints and tips that we like to test out in case there is something that helps make our job easier or prevents problems from occurring. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t – but it’s all good.

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