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Optimize Outlook to boost Exchange performance

There's a simple explanation for why high-performance, highly resilient Exchange Server hardware can't service some Outlook end users.

The goal of any server-side tool is to support the needs of client-side users, and Exchange must interoperate with a number of versions of Outlook. But older versions of Outlook may not respond well to some Exchange Server 2013 features, such as large offline files. This can cause performance problems that perplex even the most experienced Exchange administrators.

To optimize Outlook and its performance, it's important to know that these problems are in the Outlook side. Exchange 2013 and Exchange Online only support Outlook versions 2013, 2010 SP1, 2007 SP3 and the latest cumulative updates, along with Entourage 2008 for Mac, Outlook for Mac for Office 365 and Outlook for Mac 2011, Microsoft reports. Other Outlook versions will probably work, but Outlook performance may suffer when dealing with certain high-end Exchange features.

One way to overcome this type of trouble and optimize Outlook performance is to encourage or even mandate that end users use later Outlook versions. For example, deploying the latest updates or moving Outlook 2003 end users to Outlook 2010 or 2013 should alleviate performance issues when using the Exchange 2013 platform. If a mandate is not strong enough and you must force newer clients, use the Set-RpcClientAccess cmdlet to restrict access to undesirable Outlook client versions.

If you can't get every end user onto a supported version of Outlook, there are a few other strategies that might help:

  • Reduce the size of personal storage (.pst) files to 5 GB or less.
  • Compare the expected size of the offline storage (.ost) file on the afflicted users' Outlook clients to the actual file size. If the .ost file is several gigabytes larger than expected, the file may be damaged. Rename it and allow Outlook to create a new .ost file.
  • An excessive number of Calendar, Inbox, Sent and Contacts items can also cause issues. Inbox and Sent Items folders should each have fewer than 20,000 items in them, and there should be fewer than 5,000 items each in Calendar and Contacts folder.
  • Look for Outlook add-ins that might be impairing performance. Message scanner add-ins can impose a performance penalty. Disable any suspicious add-ins and see if the client-side performance improves.

About the author:
Stephen J. Bigelow, Senior Technology Editor in the Data Center and Virtualization media group at TechTarget Inc., has more than 20 years of technical writing experience in the PC/technology industry. He holds a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, along with CompTIA A+, Network+, Security+ and Server+ certifications, and has written hundreds of articles and more than 15 feature books on computer troubleshooting, including Bigelow's PC Hardware Desk Reference and Bigelow's PC Hardware Annoyances. 

Next Steps

This is part two in a series on how admins can get the most out of their Exchange 2013 deployments this year. Click here for part one, which covers free assessment tools to help admins ensure a smooth deployment. Stay tuned for part three on how to strengthen security in Exchange.

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