OIT plans transition to the cloud

The College is strongly considering migrating e-mail and calendar programs to a cloud system in 2014. Presently, the Information Technology Committee (ITC) is working in tangent with the Office for Information technology (OIT) to provide a recommendation to senior staff about its options, which include staying with the same system, moving to Google Cloud or moving to Office 365.

The ITC is composed of four faculty, five administrators and three students who monitor and recommend policies for use of information technology throughout the College. The ITC meets regularly to review and provide feedback to the College on plans for developing technology-related policies and resources. On this particular project, OIT Project Manager Maggie Koperniak has led the organization of this project with input from the group.

The College’s current e-mail system comes from Mirapoint and is five years old. Mirapoint was recently acquired by Critical Path, and technological support for the last upgrade from the system was noticeably poorer. While the College updated its e-mail servers in 2011 assuming storage would last three years, the servers had to be upgraded again last year due to storage needs; the cloud system would prevent this from occurring again.

Maintenance of the current system costs the College over $36,000 per year and takes up a third of one member of an OIT faculty member’s time. The current system also has no integration with a calendar, so faculty using the system meeting maker have to schedule things separately. An integrated email-calendar system in cloud, would be “just something to make scheduling meetings and events more efficient,” Dinny Taylor, chief technology officer for OIT, said.

Because of the shortcomings of the current system,  OIT created a survey of 62 Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges (CLACs) members in January to see if they were using cloud computing and how the system was working for them. OIT found that 61 percent of the CLACs had migrated faculty/staff e-mail to cloud systems and 68 percent had migrated student e-mail. As Biology Professor and Chair of the ITC Hank Art said, “We wouldn’t be trailblazers in switching to the cloud; we would be running to catch up,” Art said.

“You would not have to be at the computer. You could access all of your documents anywhere,” said Art. However, it would not revolutionize the current system to the point where it would be difficult to transition. “In either of these systems, you would still have a williams.edu address; it would still be separate from your other Google or Outlook accounts,” Taylor said.  The only real difference would be that “the webmail would disappear,” said Taylor.

Now that the ITC is considering switching to the cloud, it is choosing between two primary options: Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365. In comparing the two systems, the ITC has found their qualifications are close to identical. Both programs guarantee the same amount of security and privacy. The only differences are that more storage is available in Office, search functions are better in Google and Office has more integration with web versions of Office products.

With this decision, the ITC turned to faculty and staff members for preference on usage. The results in preference were actually fairly even with 45 percent favoring Microsoft, 35 percent favoring Office and 19 percent expressing no preference. “Many people came in thinking they would like Google a lot better and came out picking Office or without a preference between the two,” Art said.

Now that ITC knows the preferences between the e-mail and calendar programs of Google and Outlook are small, they are starting to look at the usability of other aspects of the clouds. “We thought there would be strong reactions between the Google and Outlook calendar and e-mail programs, which were the two products we were targeting, but we discovered that the products were competitive enough with each other that we began looking into other features to determine the choice,” said Morris.

At the moment, College Counsel Jeff Jones is reviewing the contracts of the two cloud products to see if there is a substantial difference between them. The ITC is continuing conversations with the College community to gauge preferences and will give their recommendation to the senior staff before Thanksgiving, according to Art. The senior staff will then decide on the recommendation.

While the decisions concerning the type of system and timeline for implementation are not completely set, it appears the College will be transitioning to a cloud computing system in the near future.

  • “45 percent favoring Microsoft, 35 percent favoring Office and 19 percent expressing no preference”??? Typo???