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Desktop search engines may hurt Exchange Server performance

Desktop search engines like Google Desktop and MSN's Search Toolbar can cause Exchange Server performance problems due to some peculiarities in their design.

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Desktop search engines like Google Desktop and MSN's Search Toolbar are designed to index content -- e-mail files, text documents, etc. -- in the background, so they don't interfere with work being done in the foreground. Despite this, they can still cause Exchange Server performance problems due to some peculiarities in their design.

Many such engines are designed to index e-mail stores. When this is being done locally -- when the mail being indexed is part of a Microsoft Outlook .PST file, for instance -- it doesn't pose as big a problem.

However, if the desktop indexer attempts to index content stored on an Exchange server exposed through a MAPI interface (i.e., Outlook), the network and system overhead required for the indexer to "crawl" everything in the user's mailbox (and in public folders, too) can seriously hurt Microsoft Exchange's performance.

Multiply the problem by however many people in a given organization might be running desktop search engines, and the end result is an Exchange server brought to its knees.

Preventing this before it becomes a major issue is the best strategy. Some organizations don't allow the use of desktop search tools (or any independently installed software).

If you've elected to use them, however, they will need to be configured so that Exchange Server content is not indexed, or that Outlook 2003 is run in Exchange cached mode. The downside to cached mode is that it limits some of the functionality of Outlook to begin with, so this may not be the ideal solution.

The best policy is probably to use Microsoft Exchange's own content indexing and prohibit desktop search tools from indexing Exchange Server content altogether. This may not be the most elegant solution, since it limits the usefulness of such tools to desktop files only, but it's at least workable until desktop search engines become more "Exchange-aware."

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.


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Would you explain your comment, "The downside to cached mode is that it limits some of the functionality of Outlook." As far as I know, the opposite is actually true (for instance, Junk Email Filter requires cached mode). In your tip, you linked to Brien Posey's article, "Microsoft Outlook caching considerations," which refers to performance implications, not reduced functionality. Thanks.
—David W.

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In your article you state, "The downside to cached mode is that it limits some of the functionality of Outlook to begin with." I have used cached mode for ages, and I am not aware of any such limitations. Can you enlighten me please?
—John C.

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Most of the issues involving cached mode involved the size of the local .OST file -- which was limited to 2 GB in versions of Outlook before Outlook 2003. I've made mention of this issue because of existing Outlook 2000 deployments that haven't been upgraded yet.
—Serdar Yegulalp, tip author

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In this article you state, "The best policy is probably to use Microsoft Exchange's own content indexing and prohibit desktop search tools from indexing Exchange Server content altogether."

How do you prohibit desktop search tools from indexing Exchange Server content?
—Jimmy P.

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The exact method is going to vary between search products, but the one generic piece of advice I can give is to not allow mail-aware desktop search engines to index any mail stores that are held on an Exchange server. One of the desktop search products I use is actually an Exchange add-on called Lookout -- it indexes both mail stores and files on your local system. I could easily configure it to only index local content, and not anything held in the mail store, if I was using Exchange.
—Serdar Yegulalp, tip author


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Related information from SearchExchange.com:

  • Checklist: Top 10 Exchange Server performance worst practices
  • Tip: Introducing the Exchange Server Performance Troubleshooting Analyzer Tool
  • Learning Guide: Exchange Server performance



  • This was last published in January 2006

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    Does anyone know how to limit this from the Exchange side without the use of GPO's and locked down desktops. I have about 4000 users on Exchange 2010 running in online mode where i have no control over the many XP machines and various non-compatible desktop search engines such as Google and MSN??
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