April 20, 2009

Univ. Upgrades Student E-mail

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As part of a transition to third-party e-mail vendors, the University is slated to announce later this week that starting on Thursday students will be able to access their Cornell e-mail through a Google-based server, like Gmail, called “Cmail”
Cmail, provided by Google Apps Education Edition, is currently available to new, incoming students when they activate their Net ID. The University will offer another third-party e-mail alternative –– through Microsoft-based services, Microsoft Live and Outlook Live –– starting this fall.
Features such as Google Talk (instant messaging and video chat), Google calendars, Google sites, and Google Docs will be available to all Cornell students using Cmail. In addition, students will keep their current NetID@cornell.edu with Cmail.
CIT Helpdesk Manager Weston Skeans ’09 described Cmail as “Gmail within the Cornell community” and emphasized that it will enable students to collaborate more efficiently through shared documents, shared calendars and instant messaging.
Currently, the University hosts student e-mail on several Sun Microsystems servers that it maintains at Cornell.
Last summer, a “bug” in those servers triggered a massive outage of e-mail services across the University for several days. The loss of the ability to send or receive e-mail in some cases severely limited University business in some cases and caused irreversible damage to about 3,800 email accounts, according to an internal report that was commissioned by the University several months later.
A Cornell task force commissioned by Polley McClure, vice president of information technologies, made the decision to switch to the third party vendors in summer 2008 independent of that incident, according to Beth Goelzer Lyons ’91 of Cornell Information Technologies.
“The timing of the decision … and last summer’s e-mail outage were pure coincidence,” she stated in an e-mail.
Lyons said that the transition from University-owned and locally operated e-mail servers to third party vendors will cut costs while still providing adequate privacy and security features.
“These services will cost the University much less to provide than the current student email service,” Lyons stated in an e-mail. “Google and Microsoft provide the services entirely free of charge.”
Lyons added that the University will still have e-mail related expenditures since it will remain the “local administrators” of the servers.
As for privacy concerns, Lyons said that the University Counsel negotiated the contracts with both Google and Microsoft to “ensure that both vendors satisfied Cornell’s expectations for security and privacy.”
Lyons also said that both vendors “offer greater privacy than the vendors’ publicly available versions of those services. For example, there is no advertising until after students graduate.”
“University Counsel negotiated both contracts to ensure that both vendors satisfied Cornell’s expectations for security and privacy.” Lyons stated. “In addition, Google Apps Education Edition and Microsoft Live@edu both offer greater privacy than the vendors’ publicly available versions of those services. For example, there is no advertising until after students graduate.”
Following graduation, students will still be able to use Cmail and “will not need to go through the hassle of changing to a different e-mail service,” Skeans said.