Update on Exchange Public Folders: What the Problems Are

This is the second of a short series of bulletins on Exchange public folders. We discuss:

  • What they are and how they're used (last bulletin)
  • The problems of public folders (this bulletin)
  • The migration options and the main issues to consider when migrating (next bulletin)

The Problems: User Perspective
Users love public folders. They are usually very simple to create and use. The only user problem is that as public folders grow, they cause response times to lengthen. The response time varies with the Outlook version, but if there are just 5,000 items in public folders, response time is probably acceptable. However, if you have 20,000 items in public folders, Outlook will usually be very slow to start, and may indeed hang when it tries to connect with the public folder hierarchy.

The Problems: IT Perspective
The main problems for IT are:

  • Open access to sensitive information. The poor management tools, the ability of users to set access permissions, and the complex interactions of access permissions, mean that many folders containing sensitive information are open to far more people than they should be. For example, consider emails sent to credit-card-identify-theft-issues@megabank.com.
  • User response times. As noted, these degrade significantly as public folders grow.
  • Lack of management tools. It's very hard to know who's using public folders, and how, because when users access the folders, they often do so using the default or anonymous roles.
  • Insufficient storage space. Public folders grow and grow, so new storage must be provided periodically:
    • Unlike normal Exchange folders, it's impractical to impose size limits.
    • Users often use public folders to store large files.
    • When staff leave, material they have contributed is unlikely to be purged.
    • Because material is often contributed using the default permission, you can't charge back to users based on the storage they use.
  • Backups. A number of problems arise. For example, public folders can easily grow to the order of 1TB, in which case a backup may not complete within the available time window.
  • SharePoint as teamspace direction. Microsoft's direction for shared workspaces is SharePoint. SharePoint has gained much traction, and it's clearly a better approach to informal collaboration than public folders.
  • Approaching end-of-life. Microsoft has de-emphasized public folders, and will not provide the same new features as it does for Exchange mailboxes. Public folders will be supported through 2016.
  • Cost of storage for SAN users. SAN users can find the cost of providing public folder storage is prohibitive. Costs of $80/GB are typical; this figure must be increased to allow for replication.

As a result, many organizations wish to migrate away from public folders. In the next bulletin, we discuss what the options are and the major issues to consider.

... David Ferris and Rita Gurevich. Rita is founder of SPHERE Technology Solutions, a professional services organization that focuses on data management and clean-up initiatives in the Microsoft infrastructure.

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