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On e-mail, committee discusses outsourcing

BY LISA BRAHM | APRIL 13, 2010 7:30 AM

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University of Iowa officials have assembled a new committee to begin discussions of outsourcing students’ campus e-mail accounts.

The recommendation committee will host open forums beginning today and continuing throughout the semester to solicit input on the potential change. Faculty and students making up the committee met for the first time late last week.

“The first question is, do we want to keep our e-mail server local or do we want to outsource?” said Romy Bolton, an Information Technology Services project leader. “If we decide to outsource, the question becomes, how will we go about doing so?”

Officials are considering Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo as options for outside e-mail vendors.
After each forum, the project recommendation committee will give feedback to ITS officials.

Brandon Alleman, a UI medical student who is on the committee, said many of the concerns with outsourcing deal with privacy and safety of student information.

But he supports the move.

“With outsourcing, there will be less control over data,” he said. “The pros of outsourcing are that the product provided by these companies will be top of the line.”

Panel member Amber Johnson, a junior engineering student, said she also supported the change. The biggest challenge, she said, would be to balance what UI officials want the server to include and the features students want.

The UI wouldn’t be the first institution to consider the switch.

In 2006, Arizona State University was the first major institution to update its e-mail server by outsourcing to Google. Shortly after, other large schools, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Iowa State University, decided to follow suit.

The UI considered the move that year but decided against it, Bolton said.

Iowa State officials say the change will save thousands.

Jim Twetten, the director of academic technologies at Iowa State, where 20,355 students are on the new server, anticipates savings of $27,500 per year by using Google. That’s in addition to $7,000 in energy savings once all Iowa State students switch over at the end of October.

Officials also noted other advantages.

“Google has better service and more storage than the webmail we previously provided,” Twetten said. “Google has features and applications that we could not attempt to replicate ourselves.”

Switching to an outside server wouldn’t cost the UI any money, said Tracy Scott, the ITS manager of user support and education. However, he noted, it would cost the staff a considerable amount of time.

Issues could also arise because only students — not staff or faculty — would be on the outside service, officials said.

At its first meeting on April 9, the project recommendation committee began writing a survey to determine which features students would like in an e-mail server.

Students who provide feedback online or at the forums throughout the remainder of the spring semester can enter to win an iPad provided by ITS.

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