Thursday, February 14, 2008

Trouble with Cached Exchange Mode in Outlook

Yes, I know we're a little behind. We have not yet migrated to Office 2007 or Exchange Server 2007. Even though we are a small business with only about 100 seats that's still a big financial commitment. Maybe we'll take the plunge next year. But for today, we are still running a very reliable Exchange Server 2003 Enterprise Edition with SP2. Other than needing to occasionally add storage space, it has been working just fine in our organization for the last three years. Management likes that and so do I.

One thing that management doesn't like is Cached Exchange Mode in Outlook 2003. I don't know why it's so much trouble for them. It works fine for me - always has. We may have a scenario that taxes the capabilities of Cached Exchange Mode to the max. In case you don't know, Cached Exchange Mode is simply Microsoft speak for Offline Folders - a local cache of what's in your mailbox on the Exchange Server. We only use it for employees in remote offices or home offices of execs.

Here is the scenario: Executive A is a high-volume, high-density email user in a far city. He easily sends and receives several hundred emails each day, most of them with large attachments of photos or PDFs with embedded photos. We're talking 5 to 10MB of attachments on many of his daily emails. I have never figured out why it has become so acceptable to send such large attachments. It just kind of evolved over the past few years.

Our industry happens to be aircraft sales but the same scenario could exist in Real Estate, automobiles, yachts or any business that needs to send lots of photos back and forth. The executive in question also uses multiple computers - one in the office and one in the home office, both on the East Coast of the U.S. Both his computers are configured to get his email from our Exchange Server on the West Coast of the U.S. using Outlook 2003 and Cached Exchange Mode.

The executive will work all day on the office computer, log off and then work all evening on the home office computer. The complaint is that it will sometimes take hours for synchronization of the offline folders to take place when first firing up one or the other to check his email. He reports that some emails are delayed by many hours while the cache is playing catch up. His mailbox size is over 7GB with over 32,000 individual email messages in multiple folders.

The far city does not have an Exchange Server. We only have the one on the West Coast. All email flows here and then out to the remote office. The remote office is connected via a VPN - a full T1 line here and a 3.1Mbs / 768Kbs DSL line there. The connection speed on the remote home office is a modest 1.5Mbs / 384Kbs DSL with no VPN. Most of the trouble seems to be when connected at the remote home office. Outlook is configured to get email via RPC over HTTP.

I know this reads like an MCSE exam question. Besides cutting his mailbox size down to a more manageable size, what would you recommend?

Update: I posted this same entry on my Tech Republic blog and received many good suggestions and recommendations there. That's why I post most of my stuff on Tech Republic these days. It has a much larger readership of tech guys like me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

How to protect your digital assets

I posted this on the website of Joel Dehlin, the CIO of the LDS Church in response to a question he asked about how we can protect our digital assets. His post was entitled, "You have the Right to Remain Visible."

Hi Joel,

Good post. In it you wrote, "I’m about as technical as the sole of an old shoe." Oh come on, Joel. You're saying that as the CIO of the church you don't have at least some technical ability in this area? I find that hard to believe. Unless working at Microsoft all those years numbed your technical savvy, that must have been written tongue in cheek.

Seriously, you raise a good point. So many are naive when it comes to protecting their personal home computers from the internet. I have had similar experiences in seeing many open computers when firing up my laptop at home or when travelling. It's just that people don't know about encryption.

What's worse is people who have only one computer in their home which is directly connected to the DSL or cable *without* the firewall turned on. They have no clue that their anti-virus expired months ago and that they have become compromised. They wonder why their computer is so slow. It's because it has become a 'zombie' and is sending out tons of spam under another's control.

I know because I see this all the time. As a computer professional I get calls from people in my ward struggling with this problem in particular. I do not charge for helping them out. I think of the Lord's admonition, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it onto me." It's kind of like an extension of home teaching service.

To answer your question about precautions, here is a short list:

1. Use a firewall. Either make sure the Microsoft firewall is enabled on your XP or Vista machine or use an external firewall. Most people who have a LinkSys wireless router have a firewall and don't know it. Just make sure it is turned on. It is usually on by default so if you haven't changed it, don't worry about it.

2. Clear your cache on a regular basis. It is a simple mater to push the button in Internet Explorer or Firefox but again, most people don't know how. It's just a matter of education. I find that the kids in the family know all about it because they don't want mom and dad to know what sites they have been visiting.

3. Keep your Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware solutions up to date. I know it is a mystery to so many home users but it shouldn't be. They get that new computer for Christmas but don't realize that that the Anti-virus software is a subscription based product that is only good for three months. I can always count on getting calls in April from people who learn this the hard way.

4. Make sure that you only use your credit card number online with secure sites. Today, almost all sites that take credit cards use some method of secure encryption. Never transact online business with companies that do not use encryption. If you see the little padlock in the corner of your browser when you are buying something online, then it is probably secure.

5. If you store lists of credit card numbers or other personal information on your computer in a spreadsheet, consider encrypting that particular spreadsheet. It's not hard to do but most people don't know how to do it. If you use a popular personal financial program like Quicken or MS Money, you can be sure that your financial information stored in the program is encrypted.

6. If you suspect that your Internet Service Provider is tracking the websites you visit, consider changing to another one that does not. In most American communities there are at least three choices for getting on the internet - cable, DSL and now fiber. There are usually a number of small local ISPs that compete with the cable company or phone company. Check it out.

There are more things you can do to protect your digital assets but these are the most common that any home computer user can do. I wish I knew more about how internet access and security (or the lack thereof) works in other countries but that's been my experience here in the United States.

Tim Malone, MCSE - Camarillo, CA -