Quotas Are Evil, Or At Least Counterproductive

I, like most of you, spend much of my time managing ever growing piles of data, so I was intrigued when an email with the subject "Five ways to manage data growth" arrived in my inbox, along with the usual press releases and spam. I was appalled when I saw that the firstsuggestion was to impose strict quotas on user mailboxes and home directories.

Howard Marks

May 26, 2011

3 Min Read
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I, like most of you, spend much of my time managing ever growing piles of data, so I was intrigued when an email with the subject "Five ways to manage data growth" arrived in my inbox, along with the usual press releases and spam. I was appalled when I saw that the firstsuggestion was to impose strict quotas on user mailboxes and home directories.

I understand how quotas are attractive. Users never delete anything and as a poor system administrator, you have to deal with it. We shouldn’t be surprised that we’re drowning in data, we live in a nation of packrats. An estimated 10% of US households have held on to so muchgarbage that it has overflowed their attics and garages into over 40,000 self-storage facilities. Packratismis so rampant in America that we make reality TV shows about the people that buy the junk in abandoned storage lockers.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure your mail servers, NAS systems and file servers are full of obsolete messages and files that your users should have deleted years ago, along with vacation snapshots, iTunes libraries and gigabytes of other stuff that never should havebeen there in the first place. I’ve just seen the ugly side of quotas and I think that there are better solutions. In fact, after seeing several attempts to impose quotas on users backfire badly, I've come to the conclusion that quotas are evil.

The first problem is the general resentment that users who have a gigabyte of personal mail in their Gmail account will feel when they get a message from their exchange server that they can't send the quote your best customer is waiting for because their mailbox has exceeded the puny 200MB quota you've imposed. Soon that resentment leads the users to believe you'reincompetent, since they can get better service from free services on the internet than you provide.

I'd be all for quotas if users actually cleaned their acts up when they got the first message that they were approaching their quotas and selectively deleted the old useless stuff from their mailboxes and folders. What they actually do is call the helpdesk and demand that their quotas be extended. When you say no, they complain to their bosses and some vice president calls your boss to complain that they really do have 4GB of important email or that their time is too important to spend making your life easier.

If you manage to withstand the political battle and keep enforcing the quota, most users won’t actually carefully look over their data and delete the unimportant stuff, they'll just copy some data at random to the C: drive or create archive.pst files there.

While moving the data to a local drive gets it out of the data center, and out of your backup cycle, the story doesn't end there. When an e-discovery request comes for all messages between user A and customer Q, you have to produce those messages or files, you don't getto produce just the data in your data center. If you know, or could know, that the .PST files exist on C: drives, you have to search them for the data as well.

Finally, when the hard drive dies or you replace the user's desktop with a new model, that data will become your problem once again.

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at: http://www.deepstorage.net/NEW/GBoS

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