What are SharePoint Site Mailboxes?
The SharePoint Site Mailbox concept is aimed at bringing Exchange emails and SharePoint documents together. So how does it do this?
The SharePoint Interface
A site mailbox can be created at a site level (maximum of 1 mailbox per site). From a navigation point of view the mailbox appears just as though it is another list or library in the SharePoint site.
When you click on the Mailbox link things aren’t as nice and integrated as you would hope. Instead of showing the content of the mailbox within the SharePoint site, as you would the content from a Document Library or List, rather the link simply opens the Site Mailbox in Outlook Web Access. You are taken away from SharePoint to see the content of the Site Mailbox.
This now starts to give you an understanding of what’s happening under the covers. When you add a Site Mailbox to a SharePoint site, you are effectively creating a mailbox on the Exchange server and then your site gets a link placed on it.
What is nice, is that the security of the mailbox is tied to the security permissions of your SharePoint site. So if you add or remove a user from your SharePoint site, the appropriate permissions are granted/revoked from the mailbox in Exchange as well.
Unfortunately this is about the extent of the integration of email and documents that you get through the SharePoint user interface, fortunately things will get a lot nicer when we look at things from the Outlook client…
The Outlook Interface
Outlook 2013 has been enhanced to support SharePoint Site Mailboxes. A really nice integration point is the automated rollout of Site Mailboxes directly to your Outlook profile based on your permissions to the SharePoint site. What this means is that if you are an owner or member of a SharePoint site and a Site Mailbox is created, that Site Mailbox will automatically get added to Outlook (even while Outlook is running). If your membership to the site is removed then the mailbox is automatically removed from Outlook as well. The Site Mailbox is represented in Outlook as a new store per site. All this talk of Site Mailboxes is a bit misleading though, because what you are actually getting in Outlook is the Document Libraries from the SharePoint site, not just the mailbox. What do I mean? lets have a look graphically at what you are getting:
When viewing the content of a Site Mailbox, the view presented is the same format and appearance as any other mail folder as shown below:
When viewing SharePoint Document Libraries you see an Outlook view of all the items in the document library as shown below:
This is pretty cool. Exchange and SharePoint perform a synchronization to make this possible and stubs (not the actual file content) is stored in Exchange to make this view possible. Clicking on these items in the Outlook view to open them up then communicates directly to SharePoint to download and open the file.
Subfolders, both within the mailbox and within document libraries are supported.
Read more about what Microsoft has to say on SharePoint Site Mailboxes.
Pros and Cons
So now you have a basic grounding in what this integration looks like, what are the benefits and limitations of Site Mailboxes.
- Site Mailboxes provide a consolidated view of site content stored within SharePoint and Exchange from within Microsoft Outlook
- Minimal change with a familiar drag & drop process to the left navigation of Outlook. Allowing the capture of emails or email attachments into SharePoint and Exchange
- Convenient access to SharePoint content from within Microsoft Outlook using a familiar metaphor of folders on the left navigation of Outlook.
- Ability to include a Site Mailbox as an email recipient (e.g. cc’d) for saving emails into a Site Mailbox – Inbox
- Ability to ‘Forward’ a link to a document within a Site Mailbox or drag/drop multiple documents into an email message.
- Lifecycle Retention policies can be applied at a Site Mailbox level behind the scenes
Management and Compliance: Site Mailboxes can be part of eDiscovery Search Scopes.
- Minimal change for the end users and therefore greater user adoption and promotion of enterprise content management best practices
- Less reliance on the IT Department once the SharePoint and Exchange environment have been configured for Site Mailboxes
- More efficient means to support the business with records management initiatives
- Streamlined provisioning and deployment of Site Mailboxes to end users based on security permissions within a SharePoint Site
- Email content is retained within Microsoft Exchange while documents are retained within SharePoint
- Setting up the environment to support Site Mailboxes involves installing and configuring software on both the Exchange and SharePoint servers and setting up trust relationships and having all communication over SSL.
- Probably the biggest drawback is that you are not actually getting email into SharePoint. The email is stored in Exchange. This means you can’t treat it as a SharePoint object and include it as part of a business process. E.g. include it a part of a workflow, add metadata columns to email and build a SharePoint business process around it. I will add quickly that you can drag/drop email directly to a Document Library and this will get the email into SharePoint as an msg file.
- You must be running SharePoint 2013, Exchange 2013 and Outlook 2013 to get access to Site Mailbox functionality
- Very limited features on drag/drop of attachments to SharePoint document libraries – basically no support for metadata of any kind (no content type selection, no columns to complete, no validation of mandatory column, can’t rename files on upload, no support for versioning)
- Viewing of SharePoint content is very limited. You are provided more with a file type view of content rather than a SharePoint view. You can’t show SharePoint columns in the Outlook view, you just get the filename, last modified, size, and checkout status.
- Maximum of 10 Site Mailboxes can be added to Outlook
For a more in-depth look at SharePoint Site Mailboxes, and how to overcome some of the limitations I suggest reading the article White Paper – SharePoint 2013 Site Mailboxes
Site Mailboxes Aren’t for You – Need a Different Option?
For alternate methods of getting email into SharePoint please refer to my article (written based on SharePoint 2010 options) Five out-of-the-box ways to get Email into SharePoint.