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UI mulls e-mail

BY SHANE ERSLAND | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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While some students might curse Hawkmail’s limited storage space, transitioning to another provider could have negative side effects.

UI Information Technology Services officials are weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing the school’s e-mail system, and input from students could help them in the decision-making process.

The university’s current system, Microsoft Exchange, is controlled by ITS officials on campus and provides undergrads with 50 megabytes of mailbox room. If students want more space, they can request up to 400 megabytes through ITS.

Tracy Scott, the ITS manager of user support and education for ITS, said the department is considering outsourcing to Microsoft Outlook Live, which would provide students with up to 10 gigabytes of mailbox room — more than 200 times as much storage space. The move would also save the UI money because under Microsoft Exchange, the university must pay for its own server.

“If we outsource with Microsoft or Google, it would provide the server at its cost,” Scott said.
ITS officials said they’re hoping to recruit student volunteers to test Microsoft Outlook Live.

Scott said the university plans to start a pilot program by the end of this year.

Despite certain advantages of outsourcing, possible disadvantages linger.

Romy Bolton, project manager for ITS, said students may not have the same security with an outsourced system that they get with the current one.

“If a message needs to be restricted, will they protect it?” she asked. “And what happens if someone deletes a file, and needs it back? We can do that here, but we don’t know whether they will be able to.”

Scott said when messages are delivered or deleted within an outsource service such as Google’s Gmail, the company can own that content in some cases, which could be a disadvantage to students wanting to keep their e-mails private.

“When you want to permanently delete something and it gets sent up into the cloud, how do you know it’s really gone?” he asked.

UI freshman Allison Steffen said she would be willing to take a chance on a new system if it meant more mailbox room.

“I get tons of campus e-mails, and my mailbox fills up fast, so I’ll have to keep checking it to see if there’s one I want to save,” she said. “The system will [automatically] delete them if your box is full, so I have to constantly check it to make sure I have the ones I want.”

Under pressure from student government leaders, Iowa State University officials started outsourcing at the beginning of this semester.

ISU set up incoming freshmen with G-mail accounts and offered the rest of the students the option to transition to Gmail from the homegrown webmail system. Since implementation of the new system, 6,638 students have transferred, said Angela Bradley, the director of Systems Operations Networks and Communication for ISU’s ITS.

Bradley said the new system has not caused any trouble with misplaced mail, but did have an outage problem.

“I know Google experienced a problem with mail going to the wrong boxes, but we didn’t have that,” she said. “During the first week of school, we had an outage, and there was about a two-hour window where students weren’t receiving e-mails.”

Scott said this has not been a problem for the UI using the Microsoft Exchange system.

“The system we have now has had very few instances of outages,” he said. “Today, thirty minutes without e-mail is an eternity.”


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