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Email Performance Update


While some of you may not have been affected directly, since about May 2008 we have been plagued with a continuous degradation of the e-mail system, which has most directly impacted our Apple Macintosh user community. Specifically, the server “mail-2” would become overloaded and as a result would stop all e-mail access for Macintosh users. On rare occasions mail-2 would even halt completely, affecting all faculty and staff users. As mentioned in the fall newsletter, we are evaluating whether we should upgrade our e-mail infrastructure, or explore moving our e-mail service to a hosted solution like ones offered by Google or Microsoft. However, we still needed to address the current performance problems.

We worked with our e-mail vendor and numerous consultants, but we had no success in discovering the root cause of these outages. To at least isolate the problem, we created a new mail server (mail-4), and moved a number of Apple Mail users over to this new server. In making these moves we discovered a critical aspect of mailbox usage that directly affects performance of the mail servers, and therefore, impacts the user mail experience. It turns out that the most critical performance attribute for users of mail applications like Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook is the message count in the inbox. High message counts (the vendor uses the number of 1,000 as a recommended maximum) in the inbox directly affect the server performance in handling e-mail. Any user that is opening a mailbox with an extremely high message count can affect performance for all users on that server. Only by splitting up users with high message counts to different servers have we been able to level the load and restore adequate performance.

How can you help? Keep the number of messages in your inbox at a value under 1,000 by using sub-folders or other means. Doing this will greatly reduce the load on our mail server and make the e-mail experience better for all users at the college.

- Jeff Clark, Director, Enterprise Systems