Unlimited Exchange Online Archiving: Is It Truly Unlimited? Or Just a Marketing Trick?

By | September 19, 2016

Microsoft has been promoting unlimited Exchange Online Archiving for about a year now. And many people have chosen E3 and E4 plans in Office 365 to have unlimited space for Online Archiving (you could purchase a standalone Exchange Online Archiving license as well). It promised to address a concern users with pretty large mailbox capacities had with preserving their email data and being able to access from anywhere, something offline archives won’t let you in doing so. Although Microsoft promotes it for being unlimited, is it really the case? or is it just a marketing trick? A question now I have and one you who read this also could have. Keep reading to find if it is what they say it is or something else.

Update 2017-11-23: By now Microsoft has fixed issues they were having with unlimited archiving and the feature has been already rolled out to tenants with eligible license SKUs world-wide. You can read more about an overview of unlimited archiving and how to enable unlimited archiving in your tenant.

A little bit of the background which made me writing this article.

Few days back, I received an email from one of my customers saying that one of his users had received below email.

Your archive mailbox is almost full

Figure 1: Your archive mailbox is almost full

This didn’t trouble me as I knew this was due to the initial quota of 100GB an online archive mailbox receives. Since auto expansion was not available yet, you have to submit a service request to get the online archive quota increased.

I followed the procedure and submitted a service request. The support engineer added additional 70GB to the mailbox. Now the user’s Online Archive has a new quota of 170GB in total. It was a bit strange for me of the increment this mailbox received. I was curious to know what could be the maximum increment a mailbox can get per support request. So I asked. The answer I got was, through service requests, a support engineer can increase an online archive mailbox to a maximum of 170GB and this user already has the maximum possible mailbox size.

That was quite shocking as this particular customer chose Office 365 E3 since it was supposed to give unlimited online archiving possibilities to users. After a query from me, the support engineer sent below respond to me.

Sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused by this process. I understand the marketing team has publicly announced that the archive quota can be increased to unlimited size in the past, but there has been delays with the roll-out of the service world-wide.
From the archiving team, please find below the article regarding the scalable in-place archive mailboxes:

EOA office blog snippet

In the Technet article, it mentions that the Asia-Pacific area is now rolling out the feature:

EOA TechNet snippet

Unfortunately we also do not have any further information regarding the schedule for the other regions including Sri Lanka. If there are any further updates internally or on the archiving blog we will update you via email.
Before that, we have to keep using the workaround that I will provide you which will help you to have extra 50GB for storage:
  1. An administrator can create a shared mailbox in Exchange Admin Center.
  2. Then the administrator can grant full access permission of the shared mailbox to the end user by double clicking the shared mailbox, and clicking mailbox delegation, and selecting full access.
  3. After that, end users can access to the shared mailbox in outlook or in OWA. In this way, end users can move their emails to the shared mailbox and save space to his or her regular mailbox.
    *you can use the PowerShell cmdlets to move emails(less than 50GB)from your mailbox to shared mailbox as bellows:

    New-MailboxSearch -Name "newsearch" -SourceMailboxes "abc@contoso.com" -TargetMailbox "sharedmailbox@contoso.com" -StatusMailRecipients "xyz@contoso.com"

    Or you can move emails in the defined date range to shared mailbox as below:

    Search-Mailbox "abc@contoso.com" -TargetMailbox "sharedmailbox@contoso.com" -SearchQuery {Received:7/15/2016..8/1/2014} -TargetFolder 2012delete -DeleteContent -Force
Apologies again for this inconvenience. Please let me know if you need more information about this issue.
Thank you for your understanding and valuable time!
Look forward to your reply!

Now, this was not something a customer who purchased a product expecting to have what’s advertised want to hear. Although the auto expansion feature not being available isn’t going to be a big headache, having a limitation to what was promoted as unlimited (without disclosing any of these limitations) is not something a customer expects. Not just that, having to create shared mailboxes and attaching to users is not going to be manageable, not to mention that the support engineer’s workaround violates Microsoft’s terms regarding shared mailboxes which prohibits shared mailboxes from using for email archival purposes. Oh the irony! When I highlighted that, the response I received was as below.

Dear Muditha,
Really appreciate for your sincere feedback.
And apologies again for any inconvenience caused by this issue. Unfortunately, we have no official documents which mentions the archive quota can be increased to 170GB currently. However, the archive quota can only be increased to 170GB through us support team at present. I understand it is very inconvenient, and the workaround is not a very good solution. But until the auto expanding archive size is released, we may need to keep using the workaround that I have provided to you. This topic has been raised for many times and our product team won’t give up to update this feature for all regions.
As a support Engineer, I may not help a lot  on this. But I will make sure that your feedback will be passed to our product team. Here I will also share a link with you where users are able to raise feedbacks to Office 365 product team, if you have any feedbacks to our product in the future, you are also very welcomed to share us your valuable  suggestions and ideas via the online feedback form.
My apologize for that and thank you for your understanding!
Wish you have a nice day!

At this point it started to appear to me that Microsoft’s marketing team had promoted something that was not ready yet and we who relied on TechNet information believed the feature to be available. Also, the auto expansion feature was just started rolling out world-wide during the first quarter of this year and was not available in Sri Lanka yet although we belonged to Asia-Pacific region which the TechNet article said this feature to be currently available.

I did cross post this concern in Microsoft Community at https://answers.microsoft.com and  Microsoft Tech Community at https://techcommunity.microsoft.com as well. Responses I received over at these communities were not identical. MSFT Support Staff at Microsoft Community confirmed that although the auto expansion feature wasn’t available to us yet, unlimited archiving was possible to obtain through service requests while responses from MVP folks over at Microsoft Tech Community supported the support engineer’s claim. Also, one member mentioned that even with auto expansion available, there could be an FUP attached to unlimited usage. It makes sense, isn’t it? However, if there’s such, it should be advertised and published for everyone else’s use. Below URLs are of my posts at both communities.

Microsoft Community

Microsoft Tech Community

In my opinion, Microsoft failed at mentioning the current limitation in their official documentation which lead many people to believe that they were having unlimited Exchange online archiving space. In the end, no one wants to buy something that promotes one thing and give another. Disclosing limitations and terms in official documentation for reference is a must.

We’re at the end of the post now and you might be wondering what’s the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this article. Unlimited Exchange Online Archiving: Is It Truly Unlimited? Or Just a Marketing Trick? Unfortunately I do not have many information as of now to provide a solid answer. Evidence I have are inconclusive.

However, at the moment, it is clear that you won’t get an online archive quota beyond 170GB if you submitted a service request. I’m waiting for auto expansion to be available in my country to see if we really get this unlimited feature with the auto expansion as the support engineer said.

I hope to update this post in the future as there are new developments to this matter. If you get to know of any information regarding this matter that I have missed or fail to update in the future, please do not hesitate to post it at the comments section to let everyone else who reads this to know.

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