Boundless Web mail bad news for IT managers

Yahoo's decision to offer unlimited storage capacity for Web mail users might be great news for home users keen to swap stupidly high-resolution photos, but for enterprise IT managers it's just another pain in the backside.

Yahoo's decision to offer unlimited storage capacity for Web mail users might be great news for home users keen to swap stupidly high-resolution photos, but for enterprise IT managers it's just another pain in the backside.

Yahoo plans to roll out unlimited capacity for all its online mail customers from May (subject to a largely undefined acceptable usage policy). As a means of attracting eyeballs and advertising revenue, it's not a bad strategy.

However, for IT managers without the luxury of a Yahoo-funded storage infrastructure, it's just an encouragement for users to be snidely dismissive of existing limitations on mailbox sizes.

While imposing limits on inboxes often has more than a whiff of the Grinch, there are plenty of good reasons for it. Firstly, disk space might be cheap these days, but it isn't actually free. Use less and you'll pay less.

Secondly, experience suggests that the bigger your mail file, the more likely it is to unexpectedly explode. A gigabyte of corrupted data isn't much use to anyone.

Thirdly, having a (sensible) inbox size limit forces users to actually work through their mail occasionally, rather than leaving it as the world's biggest unstructured to-do list and general garbage heap. Mail archiving and retention is important, but e-mails about dirty coffee cups or last night's reality TV vote-off don't fall in that category.

The risk, of course, is that rather than putting in that effort, users will quietly migrate themselves to Web mail services to avoid company-imposed limits. Options then are to block such services (risking a Gen Y backlash), or force people to take the limits more seriously. Neither is easy -- but what element of IT management ever is?

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