OIT plans for Google Apps email service

The College will be migrating its e-mail system to a cloud-based system on Google called Google Applications for Education (GAE). The shift from the current system, Mirapoint, to GAE has been a lengthy process of research, evaluations and discussions over the course of the past year. The Information Technology Committee (ITC), which is composed of four faculty members, three staff members, two students and the Chief Technology Officer Dinny Taylor, had been evaluating Microsoft 365 and GAE as the two contenders to replace Mirapoint since Jan. 2013. ITC worked closely with the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) and unanimously selected GAE as the final platform.

In the early months of 2013, the ITC began investigating potential replacements for the Mirapoint email system with cloud-based systems, researching solutions

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like Office 365 and GAE. The Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges surveyed its member schools to garner opinions and institutional preferences regarding cloud-based systems. The majority of respondents reported institutional moves to cloud-based systems; of those who had migrated, about 85 percent had migrated to Google Apps, and only about 15 percent had moved to Office 365. In the fall, OIT discussed the challenges and successes of transitioning to a cloud-based system with consultants from other schools that had already transitioned. OIT determined that both Office 365 and Google Apps met nearly all of ITC’s criteria, a list of 146 requirements.

Members of the ITC articulated opinions on the possible switch at a Nov. 2013 meeting. The consensus was that even though both Office 365 and Google Apps would satisfy the committee’s criteria, the review and evaluations found a great part of the College community already used Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar. Google was found to be the most common platform for the staff, faculty and students in their personal lives. ITC also contemplated the system’s compatibility with non-Windows devices and computers, due to the platform independence of Google.

“We believe that Google will give students, faculty and staff a reliable e-mail system and calendar that will be easy to use and will integrate seamlessly with mobile devices,” Taylor said..

The current Mirapoint system is currently over five years old and, has shown noticeably poor performance for the last upgrade, when telecommunications company Critical Path, Inc. acquired the system’s oversight. Rising maintenance and storage costs have been paired with diminishing vendor support, inadequate integration between e-mail and calendar services, poor integration with mobile devices and inadequate storage space. ITC unanimously agreed on the decision to switch web-based e-mail and applications and proposed to move from the on-campus servers to cloud-based systems hosted by Google. The cloud-based system will accommodate calendar and e-mail needs as well as minimize problems with limits on storage. The staff at OIT has endorsed the proposal, and the early stages of implementation have begun.

OIT projects the migration itself will happen this coming fall. It is possible that students and most administrative offices will migrate to the new system by the end of summer 2014 and that faculty will join the system in fall 2014.

“The planning phase is Jan.-March as we work through all the details,” Taylor said. “We’re on track to bring everyone on board between late spring and early fall [2014]. Ideally, the class of 2018 will use e-mail in the Google system when their accounts are first set up. We will work with ITC on the best time to move faculty and staff. The transition will take several months because we want to be sure we have resources for training and help along the way.”

The new College cloud-based system GAE will be akin to the regular Google interface, but will not have any advertisements. Students who already have a Gmail account will not be able to merge their Gmail with their College e-mail address. A student’s current e-mail username (username@williams.edu) will remain the same with GAE. Due to the importance of e-mail aliases, OIT staff are currently working on how to accommodate for multiple aliases that some College users have. Although there is no fixed date yet, the College plans to move toward Google’s cloud-based system in the near future.