Outlook Anywhere Network Timeout Issue

Background

Over the past 6 months, our BPOS support team has been trying to get to the bottom of issues some customers were experiencing with Outlook Anywhere where Outlook (2007 & 2010) reports that it is connected but when a user tries to send email the message sits in the Outbox and does not get sent unless you restart Outlook.  The issue was finally determined to be related to “keep alives” between the client and server and timeouts on network devices between the end-user and the Exchange CAS. 

While you may not be using BPOS, this issue may be seen in ANY Exchange environment (including Office365) where Outlook Anywhere is used and so I want to make you aware of it and our recommendation to resolve it. 

The Issue

By default, Outlook Anywhere opens two default connections to the Exchange CAS called RPC_InData and RPC_OutData.  the Outlook Anywhere client to server used a default timeout of 12 minutes (720 seconds) of inactivity and the server to the client timeout is 15 minutes (900 seconds).

These default Keep-Alive intervals are NOT aggressive enough for some of today’s home networking devices and/or aggressive network devices on the Internet. Some of those devices are dropping TCP connections after as little as 5 minutes (300 seconds) of inactivity.  When one or both of the two default connections are dropped, the connection to the Exchange server is essentially broken and not useable.

Solution/Recommendation

To address this issue, we are recommending setting a registry key on the Exchange CAS to change the default Keep-Alive from 15 minutes (900 seconds) to 2 minutes (120 seconds):

HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows NT\RPC

MinimumConnectionTimeout DWORD 0x00000078 (120)

When present, this setting specifies the minimum connection timeout used by the client and RPC Proxy, in seconds. The actual timeout used is the lower of this value and the IIS idle connection timeout. If zero, or the key is not present, the IIS idle connection timeout is used. Used only in RPC over HTTP v2. When changes are made to this value on the RPC Proxy, IIS must be restarted for the change to take effect. See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/aa373592(v=vs.85).aspx for reference.

The Outlook client honors this new default during the connection to the server so both the Outlook client and the Server now send a Keep-Alive packet after 2 minutes of inactivity, effectively maintaining both TCP connections needed.

This change has almost negligible impact on the Exchange server, as it simply sets the Keep-Alive interval.  By setting the timeout to 2 minutes, it is below the 5 minute timeout that a device between the user and Exchange server may be using and therefore allows the connections to "stay alive".