January 27, 2009

Univ. Looks to Replace E-mail With Gmail, Microsoft Outlook

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Cornell Information Technologies is in the midst of an overhaul of the University e-mail system that will increase storage quotas, speed and amenities for students and faculty. The project, called Ensemble, will enable faculty and staff to use such programs as Microsoft Outlook and Entourage. Students’ e-mails will be provided through third-party vendors.
“We’re talking with Google and Microsoft, but we don’t have contracts yet,” Ricky MacDonald ’71, director of systems and operations for CIT, said of the student e-mail accounts. “Our intention is that all students will be provided with accounts on both services. We would like students to have the option to use either.”
The expected format of the new e-mail accounts will have significantly more storage space than the 300 megabytes on current University e-mail systems. The Google accounts hold 6.5 gigabytes of online storage space, and the Microsoft accounts hold 10 gigabytes. Additionally, the new e-mail accounts will have such applications as calendars and spreadsheets, and they will allow alumni to keep receiving e-mails and University information long after they graduate.
Though the overhaul is radical, it is also a long-time coming.
“Ensemble is a broader initiative to modernize the messaging infrastructure for faculty, staff and students,” MacDonald said. “It builds on things a lot of our peer institutions already have underway.”
Though no deals are official yet, the option to change e-mails format is expected to be open to students next month, according to MacDonald.
“Both institutions are actively trying to hammer out the details,” said MacDonald. “We certainly hope to have something in place by the end of February. [The new accounts] offer a more modern, web-based interface than the existing systems. It’s certainly an exciting change for us here.” Staff e-mail accounts will be transferred to Microsoft Exchange, a change expected to be completed in September, 2009. Exchange also has numerous tools not currently available in the online communication system, including online word processing.
For the most part, students seem to welcome a change in the technological format of their e-mail accounts.
“I think the current program is rudimentary and simplistic,” David Bjanes ’12 said. “It doesn’t have a system for organizing e-mails.”
Many students agreed, noting the relatively slow startup and capricious nature of the current system.
“The current system crashes a lot,” Yan Zheng ’12 said. “Also, I feel that a better search function is needed when you have a lot of old e-mails.”
Adam Silverstein ’12, agreed with Zheng.
“When it constantly logs you out, it’s annoying,” Silverstein said. Silverstein also noted that he would welcome a trial period to try out the new e-mail format.
For many students, the changes are a sign of better technological advantages at the University, especially after the glitches that occured new technoligies such as PeopleSoft, which crashed during CourseEnroll in Spring 2008. The switch to new e-mail formats would simplify and increase the efficacy of electronic communication at the University.
“I know a lot of people [who] get their e-mail directly forwarded from their server to their Gmail account,” Zia Rahaman ’12 said. “I don’t really use uPortal, and I think most people don’t.”
Ramahan added that while he hasn’t found any major problems with technology at the University, he saw the importance of centralizing and simplifying University information systems.
“I think in the current technological climate, it’s necessary to have the ability to change and adapt to new technologies,” he said. “The switch will make it a lot easier for some people. That’s always been a problem with larger organizations. It’s harder for them to keep up with the technological curve.”