Microsoft Office 365 – Public Folder Crisis!

Posted on April 30, 2012


So you have seen the light and enjoying the spread of joined up Enterprise systems that for many SME’s (Small Medium Enterprise) Companies was till Microsoft Office 365 arrived a pipe dream, not just in cost terms but configuration and management.

For those without any legacy Microsoft Exchange positions this is a no brainer. BUT for those with historic Microsoft Exchange on premise servers there will be the challenge of what to do with:

  • Public Folders.
  • Shared Mailbox’s.

Microsoft Office 365 does not provide Public Folders and the traditional way of managing shared mailbox’s would mean paying for additional licenses.

Of course a desirable route would have been to leverage email enabled Microsoft SharePoint Document Libraries, supported in on premise SharePoint and a fantastic solution to silos of data languishing in Public Folders on Exchange. But in their infinite wisdom Microsoft have not enabled that feature in Office 365! Instead they have offered a half-way house solution in what they call ‘Shared Mailbox’.

The SharePoint solution is not completely unavailable, for a more graceful integration though it will entail third party licenses to use Outlook plugins that can then connect to SharePoint as if it was a Public Folder Resource. However these third party plugins tend to come with a per user cost. Some options that you may wish to look at that offer FREE but limited functionality solutions are:

Or if you have budget then something like Colligo Email Manager is probably amongst the best for email.

If you are looking for migration tools from Exchange, SharePoint, file shares or even Google then MetaVis Technologies ‘Tools for Office 365’ is a must. It is also a great offline archiving tool for Office 365 and for the Uber paranoid provides Office 365 backup functionality for SharePoint, yes it can even inject an Office 365 SharePoint site into a local on Premise, now that is a first!

For most however the shift to the Shared Mailbox option in Office 365 will do the job. At least until Microsoft opens SharePoint up with email enabled Document Libraries and or lists!

They Share Mailbox feature on the face of it they appear to be just like any traditional shared mailbox. The goodwill gesture by Microsoft being that they do not incur an additional Office 365 user license. That does however come with a catch, one that no doubt exists to prevent these from being abused.

A shared mailbox is a mailbox that multiple users can open to read and send e-mail messages. Allowing groups of users to view and send e-mail from a common mailbox. They also allow users to share a common calendar, so they can schedule and view vacation time or work shifts.

The gotcha’s are:

The cat now is out of the bag and there is a nice albeit simple GUI (Graphic User Interface) tool available to help the self-serving Office 365 SME. Fir eup a browser and point it at the ‘Shared Mailboxes with GUI-based Tool’ WiKi and get going.

For those who frustrate at the 5GB mailbox size limit them you can always use a fully licensed user mailbox option in the traditional fashion. I suggest however you consider the following lessons learnt from ‘bloated’ shared mailbox’s in Office 365. Having large shared mailbox’s have significant setbacks when you move to the Cloud and no longer have Local Area Network grade speeds to mast the overhead. Perhaps why these have been constrained. Issues include:

  • Set-up sees escalation in support calls as user Outlook ‘appears’ to lock up and desktop network activities grind to a halt as local copies of the Shared Mailbox’s get replicated to ALL users.
  • Set-up can be especially challenging for mobile users on low bandwidth connections.
  • Mobile users risk heavy overhead on data tariffs as they are connecting to multiple mailbox’s.
  • Significant changes to shared mailbox data and folder structures can cause fall-out as noted above across all users.
  • Security risk is heightened with the more users who have local copies of mailboxes.
  • Corporate Bandwidth congestion at the network edge can be overloaded requiring some form of packet filtering to prioritise traffic.

You get the drift, network impact and user experience issues sums it up. So if you do have LARGE shared mailboxes try to keep them to smaller user groups.