Exchange ActiveSync tweaks that will lower your company’s phone bills

These days, everyone’s looking to save a few bucks wherever they can. Find out how a few minor ActiveSync modifications can go a long way toward lowering your company’s phone bills.

In this seemingly endless economic downturn, most companies are taking measures to reduce costs without negatively impacting business. If your Exchange organization provides mobile devices to its employees, you can trim your phone bills by making a few simple adjustments to Exchange ActiveSync.

Note: The techniques described in this tip are based on Exchange Server 2010. That said, most of  these concepts can be applied to Exchange 2007 as well.

Find out what your company’s data plan allows
Before changing any ActiveSync mailbox policies, it’s important to determine what your data plans allow. If everyone in your Exchange organization has an unlimited data plan, then tightening ActiveSync mailbox policies won't make a difference in your wireless bills (with one exception that I’ll discuss in a moment). That said, if your wireless carrier does impose a data limit, you should build ActiveSync mailbox policies around it to prevent overages.

Disable Direct Push when users are roaming
Regardless of whether or not your mobile users have unlimited data plans, your company could be incurring excessive wireless bills as a result of roaming charges. My own wireless plan, for example, allows me to use my device anywhere in the United States and in several foreign countries. However, if I venture into an area where my wireless provider does not have coverage -- which sometimes includes my own house -- I get hit with roaming charges.

You can easily disable Direct Push while users are roaming by adjusting ActiveSync mailbox policies. To do so, open the Exchange Management Console and navigate to Organization Configuration -> Client Access. Click on the Exchange ActiveSync Mailbox Policies tab, then right-click on the policy you want to modify and choose Properties. When the policy’s properties sheet appears, go to the Think Settings tab and deselect the Allow Direct Push when Roaming check box (Figure 1).

Disable Direct Push while users are roaming.

Figure 1. Use ActiveSync mailbox policies to disable Direct Push while users are roaming.

Reduce bandwidth consumption
Unfortunately, Exchange Server 2010 doesn’t contain a setting that allows you to regulate monthly wireless bandwidth consumption. However, there are settings you can use to greatly reduce the amount of bandwidth users consume.

If you look back to Figure 1 above, you’ll notice that there is one option to limit email size, as well as one to either block attachments or limit maximum attachment size. These two settings go a long way toward reducing bandwidth consumption.

Also, although it might seem counterintuitive, you can also reduce the overall bandwidth consumption by letting users store additional message history on their mobile devices. For example, let’s assume that you only let users keep up to three days’ worth of messages on their devices. If users consistently need access to older messages, they’re forced to query the Exchange server for the message they need, and then download the message to their device even though said message existed on the device a couple days ago. If you let users store more message history on their devices, you will initially see a surge in bandwidth consumption, but the overall consumption will either level out or reduce over time; not to mention you’ll have happier users.

You can also conserve bandwidth by limiting what users do on their devices. For example, you can block Internet sharing or access to consumer mail (Hotmail, Gmail, etc.). These and several other policy settings are available through the ActiveSync Mailbox Policies properties sheet.

Keep all your Exchange users happy
If your users are accustomed to having free reign over their mobile devices and you suddenly implement the policy changes I’ve covered in this tip, you may have a mutiny on your hands. As you go about tightening ActiveSync policies, remember that some users have a legitimate business need for unrestricted access to Exchange ActiveSync. Fortunately, this is not a problem.

Because Exchange Server 2010 lets you create multiple ActiveSync mailbox policies, you can implement policies based on business need. For example, you can create an unrestricted policy that gets applied to upper management, IT staff and users who have unlimited data plans. For the remainder of your user base, you can create a more restrictive ActiveSync mailbox policy that limits the amount of bandwidth their devices can consume.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brien Posey is an eight-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a CIO at a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

This was first published in March 2012

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