Exchange 2003 - mail store full

SBS 2003 / Exchange 2003.   Server's mail store has reached 75GB and I have tried over and over to free up space.   However, every night, the event log says there's only 11MB of free space.   I have created a Recipient Policy to deleted Deleted Items older than zero days, and every night when the maintenance runs it reports just 11MB free space.
I have read numerous documents on how to do this, but am coming up empty.
I can see by the total size of the users' mailboxes that I should have about 15GB free space, but can't get the stingy Exchange mail store to return it to me.
I thought I would try using the ESEUTIL offline tool this weekend, but it seems to me that this process should run online nightly.

What am I missing?

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Simon Butler (Sembee)ConsultantCommented:
What you are missing, unfortunately, are the true facts of the use of the database.

The numbers you are seeing in ESM are not accurate. ESM only shows the mailbox size based on one of the two databases. Therefore if white space is showing as 11mb, that is all you are going to get back in an offline defrag. Therefore it is a waste of time doing so.

Users need to be told to empty deleted items, and possibly check for large attachments that can be removed from the mailbox.

While the database is dismounting each day at 5am, you could write a script to restart the information store service which will bring it back online until the next day. That will allow you to carry on.

However all of the above are just band-aids - the only real solution is an upgrade. Exchange 2003 is now out of support and any later version of Exchange allows effectively unlimited database size (over multiple databases).


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RRPELLETAuthor Commented:
Thanks for your reply,
I have had the office administrator work with each user, and they deleted (and emptied Deleted Items folders) almost 20 GB of old junk.   Took them a week.
One time (and only one time) the 1221 message in the event log reported almost 12 GB free.  An hour later, another one reported 11 MB free, as it has ever since.
Even Microsoft, the master of design without logic, can't have designed a database that doesn't allow you to remove unwanted data and reclaim the space.
Something has to be wrong:   How can an office with 15 busy users have a mail database that stays at 11MB free, no more,  no less, for a week, with the exception of one report?
I have the mailbox manager running and sending me reports.   It runs through all the mailboxes, reports having deleted one or two messages, when I know that between 10 and 20 GB of messages have been deleted.   My Recipient Policy is set to delete Deleted Items immediately, yet that 1221 error says the DB is full.
Anyway, I plan to make use of the eseutil and/or isinteg utilities to try to correct this.  I was hoping there was a less intrusive way to handle this, but I have messed with policies and maintenance schedules all week and have no way of knowing if it's helped.    Typical Microsoft...
Simon Butler (Sembee)ConsultantCommented:
"... I plan to make use of the eseutil and/or isinteg utilities to try to correct this.  I was hoping there was a less intrusive way to handle this, but I have messed with policies and maintenance schedules all week and have no way of knowing if it's helped.    Typical Microsoft... "

I don't really agree with your sentiment there. You are complaining about a product that is effectively almost 20 years old (the database didn't change between Exchange 5.0 and Exchange 2007). It was the best that is available. If you were on a later version then it wouldn't be a problem - I haven't had to do defrag or repair of a database in over five years, it simply isn't necessary.

The reporting in Exchange 2003 is basically useless. The only thing that you can depend on is event ID 1221. Anything else is unreliable and cannot be trusted.
I have seen space disappear rapidly - usually caused by a mobile device. That happens on later editions of Exchange as well and is a device issue, not Exchange.

Changing the mailbox manager settings isn't going to release the space. You need to adjust deleted item retention. After deleting content it isn't removed from the database immediately. The DIR time is configured on the properties of the database. Change that to zero, restart the information store and you should see space released 48 hours later, once the online maintenance has run overnight.

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RRPELLETAuthor Commented:
Yes Simon, the Recipient Policy was created several days ago for that reason.  I got a 1221 message reporting 12 GB free, the subsequent messages saying only 11MB was free.

You're right, Exchange 2003 is old - about 11.5 years old.  Microsoft sold the product, charged money for it, for many years.   To me, it makes sense that it should have been designed to be usable, maintainable(?).    Being unable to release space freed up by having users delete files, then changing the policy so that deleted files are immediately purged (according to their own documentation) makes no sense.

The fact that they no longer support it after all this time DOES make sense, and I have no issue with that.  It's more than reasonable to say, "It's been installed long enough, time to upgrade!"  However, it is also reasonable to assume that following their instructions to carry out a task should produce the desired results.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not a habitual Microsoft-basher.  However, like all large tech companies, they seem to forget those of us who sell, install and maintain their products.
Simon Butler (Sembee)ConsultantCommented:
Something has used the space.
The behaviour you have seen is unusual, and I have nothing else to offer you.

Exchange had its limitations, which is why there was such a huge market for third party tools to assist with the maintenance of the database. It doesn't always work correctly, everyone knows that and that is why it was completely rewritten. There is no point complaining about it. The product and its limitations is something that we have to live with.

Exchange 2003 is much older than 11.5 years - as it is effectively a service pack of Exchange 2000. There was very little changed in the system between those two versions.

Recipient Policy has nothing to do with the DIR time - they are two different things.
The mailbox manager policy will allow you to remove the items, but until the DIR time has expired they will not be dropped from the database completely.

RRPELLETAuthor Commented:
Strange indeed!  Much of the reading I did suggested that a custom recipient policy would allow me to circumvent the default rule of saving Deleted Items for 30 days.

However, at the risk of making myself look more stupid than I have already, I will pass on what I learned for the benefit of those who stumble across this in the future.   A Recipient Policy, properly configured, will take precedence over the default policy and apply a set of rules that you select.  In my case, I selected ONLY the "Deleted Items" folder, and selected to permanently delete items 0 days after they were deleted by the users.

When I logged in the next day, I looked at the 1221 messages in the Event Viewer:  one (and only one) said there was about 12GB free - all subsequent messages suggested only 11MB.

I struggled (Googled, tried stuff, Googled, tried more stuff - you know the drill) with it until I realized a few days later that I was looking at 1221 errors for the Public Folders, NOT the Private one!   When I filtered out only the Private Mailstore 1221s, there were only two after the date I started with all this, and they both suggested about 12GB free.

I'm still a bit unclear on whether I am adjusting the time a user can keep stuff in his Deleted Items folder before Exchange tosses it, or whether I am adjusting the time Exchange holds on to items after the user has deleted them.

You gotta watch what the heck you're doing with this stuff, and you gotta at least CONSIDER the possibility that the issue is with you, not with Microsoft (at least sometimes)...   Even if things were working properly (as they seemed to be) I still say that the documentation on all this is pretty confusing.    

Thanks for looking at this Simon...
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