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I have extensively googled and searched ServerFault for guidance, and I can't find any design scenario examples or best practices, or in fact any documentation at all from Microsoft for how to approach this problem.

We have a number of mailboxes that represent a department or team (rather than an individual) which will be monitored and worked on by multiple users. By this, I mean depending on who has been rostered on, who has been designated the responsibility of responding to/actioning emails for that team that day etc., different people will read the messages in the mailbox, and then categorize them/mark them as read/unread, move them to sub-folders etc. To avoid duplication of work, this then needs to be visible by whomever views this mailbox next.

Here is our current scenario:

  • We create the mailbox, e.g. team1@ourorganization.com
  • We create a domain local security group, e.g. Team1 Mailbox Full Access, and grant it full access permissions to the mailbox
  • We add users or groups to this group

By and large, this works fine. It's difficult in that users' group membership is updated at logon so they need to log off and back on in order to gain access. But here are the problems:

  • The amount of time taken between when these permissions are set and when they seem to be applied is unpredictable and inconsistent. For example, if I follow the steps above (or even just add someone to a group which already has the permissions), even if they logoff/on, sometimes it can take hours before they will be able to access the mailbox.
  • Sometimes this doesn't even work at all. Users can only access a mailbox if they are directly applied permission to do so (e.g. their user acocunt is granted the permissions on the mailbox, not via group membership).

I've considered using public folders, but obviously there is much confusion as to whether these are deprecated, but more specifically about what their best usage is (I don't htink they would apply to my current problem). I've also considered changing them from user mailboxes to shared mailboxes, however this technet article says:

We recommend that you use resource mailboxes or Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server portals for collaboration instead of shared mailboxes.

There's also a lot of buzz about integration between Exchange and SahrePoint, or how SharePoint is going to replace a lot of the collaboration scenarios previously addressed by Exchange. But I can't seem to find any clear documentation on what the recommended design is.

So my question is, can anyone point me in the direction of any documentation on what the correct approach to this scenario is? This is a common requirement among organisations and I can't believe it hasn't been addressed somewhere.

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2 Answers

Exchange and Sharepoint provides tools; you customize them for your needs. You might think that these needs are universal and indeed they are but you'd be surprised how much they vary between organizations so your config is likely different than others. What you are really doing is mapping business processes to the technology and that can really only be done by you. You need to figure out what your users need and build a solution that works for them. This probably explains why you aren't finding docs for exactly what you want.

Public folders are viable for Exchange 2010 and for who knows how long. Microsoft initially tried to kill them off but there was a lot of backlash so they've backed off on that a bit. If you're not already using them, you'd be wise to skip them and find a solution that uses mailboxes or Sharepoint instead.

Really your 2 options are as you've mentioned: use a mailbox and give everyone access or use a Sharepoint site. Either can work. You don't mention if you already have Sharepoint or not. If you don't, it isn't an insignificant thing to build so I'd recommend sticking with your mailbox approach which is a common solution. Obviously you need to address your issues with the permissions problems but if that's your only issue, I'd simply focus on that specific technical problem and find a solution.

I wouldn't obsess over that comment in the Microsoft doc about using resource mailboxes or Sharepoint for collaboration. A resource mailbox wouldn't be appropriate for your specific use though Sharepoint might be.

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Thanks for replying. Should have mentioned we already have SharePoint. I agree needs vary however as you say this is a universal need. Microsoft should at least provide a baseline best practice. Without this it's difficult to focus on and resolve the specific technical problem. All we can do is work off established security principles, which is what we have done (as per my OP), but unfortunately this doesn't seem to work very well. Yes you map technology to business processes (or vice-versa, it's not uncommon) but if MS want to encourage us to migrate to new technology a pathway would be nice. –  Matt May 4 '11 at 9:12
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Here's what I've learned about these issues.

The waiting period between setting these up and when they work is related to the directory cache on the Exchange. I've found an article here which describes this. Our solution to this is to set appropriate expectations; we wait 24hours between creating the shared mailbox and advising the users it's ready.

With regards to functionality, I've still found no guidance on what the best practice for this is. I have however discovered the following two facts:

  • Creating the mailbox and user account directly in Exchange as a Shared Mailbox works far more reliably
  • Creating a group with access to the mailbox, then adding users to that group, works. Using nested groups does not work reliably

Apparently the second issue has been fixed in the latest service pack, although I have not tested this yet. Also, the groups we are now creating are security enabled distribution groups. I have created a script to automate the whole process, and this is working very well. We are currently in the process of migrating our existing shared mailboxes to new mailboxes created with this script.

I've inclluded the script below for anyone who is interested. Any suggestions or improvements would be most welcome.

# ===================================================================
# Purpose:           Creates a shared mailbox, a group with appropriate permissions, and adds members
# Author:            Matt Goldman
# Revision:      1.0; 31/5/2011
# ===================================================================


Function ImportMembers

{

    param($csvpath,$dgalias)

    $Title = "CSV Import Options"
    $headingquery = "Please choose from the following CSV formatting options:"

    $alias = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&Alias", `
        "CSV Contains an alias column."
    $fullname = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&Full Name", `
        "CSV contains a full name column."
    $firstlast = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "First and &Last Name", `
        "CSV contains a first name column and a last name column"

    $options = [System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription[]] ($alias, $fullname, $firstlast)

    $result = $host.ui.PromptForChoice($title, $headingquery, $options, 0)

    Switch ($result)
        {
            0   {
                    # Has an alias column
                    $aliascolumn = Read-Host "Please enter the column heading for the alias column"
                    $members = Import-CSV $csvpath
                    foreach ($row in $members)
                    {
                        $member = $row.$aliascolumn
                        Add-DistributionGroupMember -Identity $dgalias -Member $member
                    }
                }
            1   {
                    # Has a full name column
                    $fullnamecolumn = Read-Host "Please enter the column heading for the Full Name column"
                    $members = Import-csv $csvpath
                    foreach ($row in $members)
                    {
                        $member = $row.$fullnamecolumn
                        Add-DistributionGroupMember -Identity $dgalias -Member $member
                    }
                }
            2   {
                    # Has a first name and a last name column
                    $firstnamecol = Read-Host "Please enter the column heading for the First Name column"
                    $lastnamecol = Read-Host "Please enter the column heading for the Last Name column"

                    $members = Import-csv $csvpath
                    foreach ($row in $members)
                    {
                        $fullname = $row.$firstnamecol + " " + $row.$lastnamecol
                        Add-DistributionGroupMember -Identity $dgalias -Member $fullname
                    }
                }
        }

    Write-Host "The following members have been added to the group:"

    Get-DistributionGroupMember $dgalias | FT -AutoSize Name

    Write-Host "Thank you for using SMBuilder."
}

Write-Host "Shared Mailbox Builder v0.1`n"
# Write-Host "Script to create a shared mailbox, create a corresponding group with appropriate permissions, and populate group membership"
# Write-Host "User-input driven"

# Create the shared mailbox

$mbname = Read-Host "Please enter a (full) name for the new mailbox (e.g. Sales Team or Emplyee Enquiries)"
$mbalias = Read-Host "`nPlease enter an alias for the new mailbox (e.g. salesteam or empenq)"

$addomain = Read-Host "`nPlease enter your Active Directory domain (NOT your SMTP domain if they are different)"

$upn = $mbalias + "@" + $addomain

$mbmessage = "`nDo you want to specify an OU for the mailbox object? (Default will be $addomain/users)"

$yes = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&Yes", `
    "Specifies an OU."

$no = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&No", `
    "Accepts default OU."

$options = [System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription[]]($yes, $no)

$result = $host.ui.PromptForChoice($title, $mbmessage, $options, 1) 

switch ($result)
    {
        0   {
                $ou = Read-Host "Please specify the Organizational Unit - $addomain/"
                $mbou = $addomain + "/" + $ou
                New-Mailbox -Name $mbname -Alias $mbalias -UserPrincipalName $upn -OrganizationalUnit $mbou -Shared | Out-Null
            }
        1   {
                New-Mailbox -Name $mbname -Alias $mbalias -UserPrincipalName $upn -Shared | Out-Null
            }
    }

Write-Host "The following mailbox has been created:"

Get-Mailbox $mbalias | FT -AutoSize Name,OrganizationalUnit

# Create the security-enabled distribution group

$dgname = Read-Host "Please enter a (full) name for the new Distribution Group (e.g. Sales Team Full Access)"
$dgalias = Read-Host "`nPlease enter an alias for the new Distribution Group (e.g. STMailBoxFA)"

$dgmessage = "`nDo you want to specify an OU for the Distribution Group? (Default will be $addomain/users)"

$yes = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&Yes", `
    "Specifies an OU."

$no = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&No", `
    "Accepts default OU."

$options = [System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription[]]($yes, $no)

$result = $host.ui.PromptForChoice($title, $dgmessage, $options, 1) 

switch ($result)
    {
        0   {
                $ou = Read-Host "Please specify the Organizational Unit - $addomain/"
                $dgou = $addomain + "/" + $ou
                new-DistributionGroup -Name $dgname -Type 'Security' -SamAccountName $dgname -Alias $dgalias -OrganizationalUnit $dgou | Out-Null
            }
        1   {
                new-DistributionGroup -Name $dgname -Type 'Security' -SamAccountName $dgname -Alias $dgalias | Out-Null
            }
    }

Set-DistributionGroup -identity $dgalias -HiddenFromAddressListsEnabled $true


Write-Host "The following Distribution Group has been created:"

Get-DistributionGroup $dgalias | FT -AutoSize Name,OrganizationalUnit   

# Apply full access and send as permissions to the group on the mailbox

Add-MailboxPermission -Identity $mbalias -AccessRights FullAccess -User $dgalias | Out-Null
Write-Host "`nFull-Access rights applied..."    

Get-Mailbox $mbalias | Add-ADPermission -ExtendedRights Send-As -User $dgalias | Out-Null
Write-Host "Send-As permission applied..."

# Populate the group

$listmessage = "`nDo you have a .csv file listing the users/groups you wish to add to this group?"

$yes = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&Yes", `
    "Allows you to import a list of users in .csv format"
$no = New-Object System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription "&No", `
    "Allows you to manually type in a comma seperated list of users, or skip and add them manually"

$options = [System.Management.Automation.Host.ChoiceDescription[]] ($yes, $no)

$result = $host.ui.PromptForChoice($title, $listmessage, $options, 1)

Switch ($result)
    {
        0   {
                "You wish to import from CSV..."

                $csvpath = Read-Host "Please enter the full path to your CSV file"

                ImportMembers $csvpath $dgalias
            }
        1   {
                "You do not wish to import from CSV. Thank you for using SMBuilder."
            }
    }
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