ITS delays switch to Gmail

The changeover to Google as Yale’s e-mail provider has been put on hold.

Information Technology Services has decided to postpone the University’s move from the Horde Webmail service to Google Apps for Education, a suite of communication and collaboration tools for universities, pending a University-wide review process to seek input from faculty and students. After a series of meetings with faculty and administrators in February, ITS officials decided to put the move on hold, Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said.

“There were enough concerns expressed by faculty that we felt more consultation and input from the community was necessary,” he said in an e-mail to the News.

The idea to switch to Google Apps for Education­ — which includes popular programs such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs — arose during an ITS internal meeting around Christmas, computer science professor Michael Fischer said. After ITS notified faculty members and administrators of the plan in February, several expressed reservations about the move, and ITS officials decided to convene a committee to discuss the situation.

Chuck Powell, the ITS senior director of academic media and technology, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Several members of the committee thought ITS had made the decision to move to Gmail too quickly and without University approval, Fischer said.

“People were mainly interested in technical questions like the mechanics of moving, wondering ‘Could we do it?’ ” he said. “But nobody asked the question of ‘Should we do it?’ ”

Fischer said concerns about the switch to Gmail fell into three main categories: problems with “cloud computing” (the transfer of information between virtual servers on the Internet), technological risks and downsides, and ideological issues.

Google stores every piece of data in three centers randomly chosen from the many it operates worldwide in order to guard the company’s ability to recover lost information — but that also makes the data subject to the vagaries of foreign laws and governments, Fischer said. He added that Google was not willing to provide ITS with a list of countries to which the University’s data could be sent, but only a list of about 15 countries to which the data would not be sent.

“Yale is an international, multicultural community of scholars,” he said. “Students deserve to have rights to their information while on campus.”

But even if all data were kept on American soil, Google’s size and visibility as a company makes it more susceptible to attack from individuals, ranging from hackers to company insiders, Fischer said.

Under the proposed switch, Yale might lose control over its data or could seem to endorse Google corporate policy and the large carbon footprint left by the company’s massive data centers. In addition, Fischer said, Google has a “one size fits all” customer service policy for its Google Apps clients, and the creation of a Google “monoculture” among e-mail users would cause severe problems when the company’s servers experience downtime or crashes.

Deputy Provost Charles Long said last Wednesday that he did not know about the committee’s decision but noted that several faculty members had concerns about communications security under the proposed Google system.

“I thought that students were all on it,” he said. “But there was some concern about its capacity to maintain confidentiality with respect to regulations.”

ITS plans to propose procedures for getting input from the community and making a more informed decision in the coming months, Fischer said.

Originally, ITS had planned to make a gradual transition from Horde to Gmail by next spring, moving current freshmen, sophomores and incoming students to the new system but giving upperclassmen the option to remain with Horde.

But at this point, Fischer estimated, the earliest move to Google Apps for Education could be made in spring of next year, with the class of 2015 being the first to adopt the new system at the beginning of its freshman year.

Google has been at the center of a number of recent controversies relating to privacy, security and intellectual property issues. The introduction of the Google Buzz social networking service in February, which automatically allowed Gmail users to view the contacts of members in their address books, raised concerns among privacy advocates. The company has also come under fire for its censorship of search results, most notably in cooperation with the Chinese government. Google recently reversed its policy, shutting down its Chinese Web site.


  • Anon.

    Horde is an embarrassment. It is far older and less functional that email systems at other universities, proof that it’s not just the architecture at Yale that looks medieval. I don’t know who on the faculty raised these objections, but it makes me think they should stick to research and teaching and stay away from IT policy.

  • EH

    Debate is a nicety and is generally good in these types of things, but this is a simple decision that many universities like Brown have already wisely made. Let’s not be stupid: maintaing Horde over Gmail costs Yale more for worse service.

    All three listed reasons are stupid:

    1) problems with “cloud computing” — everything is moving to the cloud, even bank databases and financial institutions. It is cheaper due to economies of scale and it is more effective and reliable because of 24/7 effective support.
    2) technological risks and downsides–the security risks are not nothing, but I’d rather entrust my information to Google’s web security team than Yale’s. Plus, Google has a business to keep: they’re not going to sell of my information or let it leak.
    3) and ideological issues–like what? Conservatives like privatization/outsourcing and liberals like change/progress. Both camps should be on board.

    This is silly. Get rid of Horde…. NOW! I don’t have 10 minutes to have my web email access load each time.

  • Censorship/Scholarship

    The postponement of the word “Chinese” in this article until the final two sentences screams volumes here.

    Sensitivity or self-censorship?

    Yale’s involvement with a country which obstructs academic freedom needs front and center analysis by a journal with as distinguished a record for courageous reporting as the YDN has had over the century plus of its own history.

    Google may be telling Yale what Yale already knows but is too financially involved to admit:

    Censorship and Scholarship do not a marriage make.

    Paul Keane, M.Div.’80
    M.A., M.Ed.

    The Anti-Yale

  • Randy

    The private university that I work for switched to Google Apps for Education last summer. The transition was relatively painless for our users as they had planned well in advance.

    Before the change, Google assured us regarding the same concerns as Yale. Google Apps for Education is free, and the service is certainly better than they have now with Horde.

  • Ha

    More concern/debate about an email program than we have seen in healthcare…

  • 2011

    Horde is ancient technology, expensive to maintain, and difficult to use. But naturally, instead of making progress and creating positive change, Yale is confounded by a bunch of academics, upset that they had no input in a decision that they are not qualified to mediate. Other schools have used Gmail for years, and the supposedly evil Google doesn’t seem to have stolen their data and used it for nefarious purposes–any suggestions to the contrary should correctly be labeled conspiracy theories.

  • Wha?

    I don’t see this as a problem for students. Everyone should already have their own gmail account, which by the way would still exist years after they graduate. And if the yale system had any kind of pop3 service, gmail could easily be configured to automatically check the yale account and even send back using the yale email address. Don’t wait for the tech dinosaurs to catch up.

  • Jeremy

    I work at a college that recently switched over to Gmail. I’ve got to say it was a complete success. Its a much easier system to use then any of the older programs.

  • otakucode

    For those confused about the concerns, keep in mind that Google is presently the largest censor in the world. They also store email information unencrypted so that they can mine it for information. They frequently scan through the emails of everyone who uses gmail to determine the best advertisements to show those people. They also keep track of every single usage of the system. If Yale switches to using Google, they are handing their students over to Google and saying that Google has complete access to all of their personal data for whatever use Google ever dreams up. You might trust Google today, but in 15 years are you SURE that no executive will come to power in Google that, for instance, is great friends with the government of Iran and shares all email logs with them? Are you SURE that in the coming decades, Googles policy of bending over for any government that promises they can make a few bucks operating in their country if they just cooperate won’t make something you said once upon a time look like a ‘threat’?

  • Gomba

    More liberal drivel.

  • Jennifer

    Hello Google, goodbye privacy. Our e-mails will follow us for the rest of our lives.

  • DWhite04

    I’m glad that Google’s carbon footprint factored into this decision. Ideally, Yale will lead the effort of moving humanity back to a time when we were carbon neutral. Of course, every life-sustaining activity leaves an environmental impact. But the earth would be better off without us.

  • @#9

    “But in 15 years are you SURE that no executive will come to power in Google that, for instance, is great friends with the government of Iran and shares all email logs with them?” YES. I am sure; you are ridiculous (and they would be tried for treason then).

    “They frequently scan through the emails of everyone who uses gmail to determine the best advertisements to show those people.” The academic version does NOT have advertisements.

  • Paranoia

    Yes, yes… having Google own plaintext e-mails is a security risk if Google wishes to expose my private e-mail to my mom and, in doing so, risk losing their entire business. But if we’re going to invent unlikely security scenarios, people do realize that using unencrypted e-mails at Yale means that IT people here could do the same? Ohmygod, what if in fifteen years, President Levin wants a Yale-in-Iran program, and delivers all of my e-mails to whoever is in charge there?!

    Also, in terms of security, there’s a risk assessment – Yale is a far easier target than Google, but Google is of bigger value. So which of the two is more likely to be compromised? I’m not sure.

    In the end, if you’re not encrypting your e-mails (and possibly using a one-time pad for access), I’d bet you’re already placing a substantial benefit to your ease of use over a very minor security threat. This is more of the same.

  • JimBob Databender

    remember the big deal when they announced this awhile back.. apparently the ducks were not lined up sufficently and the trouble makers came out of the woodwork to put a stop to this…

  • SjJr

    Brilliant and thoughtful analysis by DWhite04, here. The cost of a Gmail account? Free. Seeing liberal use technology to complain about the evils of technology? Priceless.

  • Yale 08

    After decades of enduring situations like this, you would think ITS would have realized that the mantra is “under promise, over deliver” … not the other way around. :-)

  • ITSguy

    It’s funny that YDN is calling it an “ITS delay…” when in reality, the decision was NEVER made to begin with. This whole story started with a rumor that came from a group that is not as tightly knit with ITS as they think they are. In reality, ITS is evaluating Google and Microsoft email as a solution to our current student systems. A decision should be made later this year, but there is NOTHING definite yet. Also, faculty are expressing concerns as noted in the story, and they will be a factor in the decision.

  • nupet

    Glad to see an acknowledgment that concern about Google’s carbon footprint is “ideological”, not scientific.

  • @DWhite04

    I agree with DWhite04, who judging by the name doesn’t have to deal with the behemoth that is Horde. Horde may be bad, but it’s not nearly as bad as tacitly supporting Google’s carbon footprint.

  • Greg Barton

    If they were smart, they’d get out now while the getting is good. Google obviously cannot be trusted to do the right thing ever. Getting in bed with these morons is about as blind as it gets!

  • tin foil hat w/antenna

    DONOT RESIST YALE. Just submit to Google. Resisting is pointless. Google is controlling your transmisions. Donot attempt to adjust the verticle. Google will own the world soon so just relax and allow them to infect your campus.

  • Martin

    Mike Fischer’s reported remarks are on target. Google has a great user experience, but you just don’t know what’s going to happen with your data. Of course, you don’t know what Yale’s going to do with your data either, but at least users have some leverage here. The smart thing to do is to download all your mail to your personal machine and keep it off the server and away from all those prying eyes and legal beagles.

    The remark about carbon footprint is strange. Does anyone think Yale’s footprint per email user is less than Google’s?

  • yale 09

    Gmail threads. Threading is not for everyone. Google is arrogant enough to not even give users the option of toggling off threading, even though its clear that there are many people out there who dislike this feature.

    Does this mean that all yale mail will be threaded?

  • Yalie81

    This is just how we roll at

  • @ Yale 08

    They do under-promise, but they also manage to consistently under-deliver. Consistency is good, right?

  • kuni lemmel

    Why anyone would use an email client is beyond me. Every last bit of your email is stored and saved, like it or not; and at college it’s all connected to your name, numbers (ss, license, school, credit cards), and your family. If you think that’s for your benefit, youse a good lil democrat. If you think GOOG doesn’t do it (place your own scathing remark about stupidity here).

  • joe thompson

    if you have a private email that you don’t want google to know about you can use another email service.

  • ofc2logic

    Gmail and Google’s apps are low-end, inexpensive alternatives to real software. The idea of Gmail pretending to be some kind of enterprise collaboration solution is hilarious to me.

  • Sean

    From a business/financial point of view, going “free and hosted” certainly makes the most sense.

    But you have to wonder: no company, including Google, can do something for free. They’re making money off of this deal somehow, yet won’t tell you how.

    If something’s too good to be true, it generally is.

    What’s more, the “cloud” is not a fait-accompli. Having all your data in a third-party location poses a huge security and business continuity risk. And given that Google won’t tell you where your data is going to be is pretty crazy.

    Limiting yourself to Google’s cloud and apps also severely restricts your business processes. Want to streamline a process that Google can’t accomodate? Tough luck. You could have developed something locally had you hosted your own apps, but since you’re in the cloud you have to do everything the Google way.

    But then again, I’m sure Google is confident they know how to do your job better than you do anyway.

    Finally, Google had to give their code over to the Chinese in order to operate there. Once I heard that, Google has never seen me log into anything that they run.

  • oracle2world

    You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (or a new email system).

    Anyone else here have a better explanation?

  • zimbra

    Use Zimbra! It’s great!

  • The YDN is horrible.

    The real story here is NOT about Gmail, but how horrible the YDN’s journalism is. If people missed it, they should go back and read comment #18 from an actual member of ITS. As a student who saw this reporter’s first article and was interested in when the Gmail switch was going to happen (given that first article made it seem like it undoubtedly WAS going to happen), I emailed ITS about it received this response:


    I can not provide you with the details of our plans to switch to GMail because we currently have no such plan. Unfortunately, the Yale Daily News published that story without actually verifying that the information they’d obtained was factual; In short, it was not.”

    I find it appalling that this article is making ITS an agent in the situation (“ITS delays switch”) in order for the YDN reporter to save his unprofessional a**. ITS hasn’t delayed the email switch…it just wasn’t going to happen in the first place! And since people (like me) start asking questions about when the switch will happen, the YDN chooses to say it was delayed by ITS rather than saying they made it up in the first place. Please own up to your mistakes instead of shifting the attention to ITS since its clear that you didn’t do a thorough job. (Not saying that ITS is an angel by any means, but that doesn’t mean they need to be the scapegoat for the YDN’s mess up….and this is just one instance in a long line of the YDN’s engaging in terrible journalism.)

  • Researcher

    A great deal of Yale research involves legal privacy issues, including data about people, or what is technically called “human subjects.” There are important ethical and legal issues about how and where this data is stored. I, for one, am glad that Yale has realized this and will think through this decision more fully. I’m all for getting rid of Horde, and the sooner the better, but there are real ethical issues here that need to be addressed.

  • @ #33

    It could very well be the case that the YDN jumped the gun and is using ITS as a scapegoat. Or, it could be that in a big department like ITS, the YDN talked to some people who said ‘Yes, this is the plan’, and your e-mail went to others who said, ‘No, that isn’t the plan.’

  • YDN is not horrible

    I re-read the original article in February and do not find the journalism “horrible” in any way. The article was clear about what its sources were, and what the status of a possible switch to GMail was. If the sources are truthful, discussions and evaluation regarding GMail had gone fairly far along. Anyone reading the article who thought that GMail was coming to campus was reading more into these sources than was warranted.

  • @12

    does Horde, or yale servers for that matter, not have a carbon footprint?

    Horde is a total joke and an harassment to the university.

  • e-mail expert

    Do you know who are actually operating each databases at hosting center?
    They consist of hosting employee, part-time employee and so on. It’s mixed people.

    If you get a chance to copy the customer’s database and sell it to bad guys at multi million dollars, can you stop your motivation of trying that?

    That’s the serious problem in the cloud.

  • Y09

    I have to completely agree with the poster above that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I use gmail for my personal email, but only because everyone else does. Isn’t Yale independent and wealthy enough to not have to resort to using the poor college student’s email platform? Should we start letting Google index all of our term papers and reading responses, and while we’re at it, shouldn’t we just feed them our research data? Never trust something that claims that it can simply be trusted because it thinks it can itself. We don’t yet comprehend as a society just how precious information is, especially on an aggregated level, and giving all of this to any company for free is giving them a gift gratis. That is unless you consider a skimpy email platform to be a fair trade.

  • Wow

    This is the stupidest thing ever. Horde is horrible, Gmail works great. How is there any debate here?

  • Cool Fix

    does Horde, or yale servers for that matter, not have a carbon footprint?
    Exactly, datacenters are more energy efficient than some scattered servers. If you want to be green, don’t create data. Letting a cloud provider to store your data actually reduces your carbon footprint because they have superior green technology in their datacenters. They’re the ones who pay the electricity bill, they care more about energy efficiency than you do.

  • Biff

    The notion that Google’s data centers might somehow be less carbon efficient than Yale’s data centers is one of the most hilarious things that I’ve read in a long time. Google sweats every kilowatt that goes through its data centers, and some of the centers leverage renewable energy sources, like hydroelectric power. There is no way that Yale is even remotely as energy efficient as Google. Better get Pachauri on the case, stat!

  • Yellow Light

    Horde is hardly the answer but the concerns with Google are real. Yale is right to be cautious. The people here who are complaining Yale is not going top speed to Google are precisely those who will be complaining loudest about the move when Google poses any problem. (Why didn’t Yale think for itself, make better decisions etc etc) Yellow light! Just because everyone else is doing it, as your mother used to say, does not mean you should.

  • Chris

    The major complaints:
    1. Concern with ‘Cloud Computing’
    You mention the fact that the data centers are randomly chosen, and that you cannot protect against attack, but do you honestly think that your individual servers located in relatively small datacenter(s) at Yale are more reliable than Google’s? The distributed architecture with limited access or public knowledge to where those data centers are is exactly what PROTECTS your information.
    2. Technological risks and downsides
    Yes, it is possible that their system could go down, and you could lose access, but the exact same risk occurs with locally hosted applications. The question still remains, have you invested as much money into redundancy as Google has? I would be the answer to that is NO.
    Second, if you have a security risk to your data or information, the biggest issue is most likely your partial adoption of Internet Explorer 7.
    Internet Explorer 6 and 7 have been proven to have numerous security flaws and vulnerabilities.
    3. Idealogical issues. This, to be honest, is the least impressive. Google, more than almost any other public technology company. You obviously support both Microsoft and Apple, neither of which supports half the open and honest standards that Google does. Microsoft itself has already said that they will not be leaving China. Yes, Google may have made occasional mistakes with how it organized services such as Buzz, but those are on consumer grade services, not enterprise ones and were quickly rectified.

    If you think that technically, or ideologically Google is not a match for Yale’s standards, then I think you should examine some of your existing relationships and technologies much closer. It is likely that there is a plank in your own eye that you have to remove before you attempt to look at the spec in Google’s eye…

  • hmm

    i think the original headline probably shouldn’t have read “Google to run Yale email”, stated as a fact, given that it was clearly more of a rumor among the student tech people. it is the job of the writer to pick good sources, or if he isn’t going to, to label the story as an uncertainty.

  • KJ

    Thumbs up for Chris in post #44, who gets it.


    1. Yale servers are probably already severely compromised by hackers within and without, as are other universities’ systems. Compared to corporate systems, the stuff at universities are pretty porous (I went to top colleges on both coasts, and the story was the same), and security even at large corporations are definitely not ironclad. At least Google/Yahoo/etc. know when they’ve been compromised, as in the recent Chinese incursions that led to Google exiting China.

    2. I’d say the bigger issue is what happens when Google is sued to reveal email information, or forced to by State/Federal authorities to turn over data. I assume that Yale themselves would never reveal emails except in extreme cases like murder. The key then is for Google to *guarantee* that it will not bow to external pressure if Yale requests it to be so. Anyone can make a mistake in carrying out a service (less so Google than other shops, I’d wager), but I think it’s reasonable for Yale to expect 100% confidence that Google executes Yale’s will to the best of their ability, which incidentally is far greater than Yale can say for itself.

  • Y’11

    Eh, none of this really matters – you can have auto-forward on your Yale mail to send it to gmail anyways.

  • datacenter heat

    Can’t we use the heat from our own data center to preheat water for showers or store it to heat buildings in winter?

  • Yale ’08

    “Idealogical issues. This, to be honest, is the least impressive. Google, more than almost any other public technology company. You obviously support both Microsoft and Apple, neither of which supports half the open and honest standards that Google does. ”

    You’re missing the point. And you’re also wrong. The ‘ideological issues’, which are really privacy and consumer rights issues, are the only point here. As such, they are the most important and the most persuasive.

    There is lots of literature on the legitimate claims by many smart, rational people who have exposed Google’s schemes to dumb down the internet and turn information into a commodity. Google has demonstrated time and time again that their goal is profit before privacy or preserving the ‘transparency’ of information.

    Stop making excuses by looking at the simple technological/cost issues and do a little more research into what is actually happening here.

  • Yale CC ’08

    “You might trust Google today, but in 15 years are you SURE that no executive will come to power in Google that, for instance, is great friends with the government of Iran and shares all email logs with them?”

    The Iran reference here is ridiculous jingoism. But replace “Iran” with the “US government (in possession of some of the most sophisticated, off-market IT systemes known to civilization) in collusion with corporations” and you have for some dystopia scenarios that promise to indeed come true.

  • ac

    Of course, a bus has a larger carbon footprint than a car, but way less than 40 cars together.

    Google’s carbon footprint per email is way, way, way less than that of normal servers, so if Yale cares about carbon footprint, they should definitely use Google services.

  • WIlliam

    Why would a University share all its research with a private corporation for free? Upgrade the mail client if necessary, but don’t feed the beast.

  • KL ’94

    Here is part of a reader’s comment to a NYT article by David Pogue about Google Buzz: “Google eats privacy. People feed Google their private lives in exchange for convenience.”

    Google has a voracious appetite for information. They have a great business model, which is to provide highly usable products for no cost, except that a tiny fraction of the aggregate attention of zillions of users is converted to ad revenue. That’s dandy for Google.

    A university, government, or any institution that has a brand to protect and a relationship of trust with its members has to carefully evaluate its outside partnerships. Especially a university, for which knowledge and information are the prime currency. Yale has a responsibility to the university community. If they are hesitant about GMail, good for them for taking a careful look at this issue. (And it is not clear that this story is accurate in the first place, per comments above.)

    Because of my own concerns about Google’s cavalier attitude about privacy, I deleted all my Google services. I use alternatives including Bing. For the same reason, I have no facebook profile.

    Just because “everyone is doing it” does not mean that you do, too. By not depending on Google, I am able to maintain an independent point of view, and I value that. I can partly thank my liberal arts education at Yale for inculcating that in me.

    By the way, I am no Luddite. I have worked in digital media for 8 years and first used the web in Saybrook College in 1994 (NCSA Mosaic, baby).

  • KL ’94

    Gmail Ditched By Major University (UC Davis)
    IT executives at the school say Google’s commitment to privacy and security doesn’t meet their standards.

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