Committee to review Gmail

Now that Yale’s move to Google-provided student e-mail has been postponed, Information Technology Services has referred the proposal to a committee to evaluate it and ensure a smooth transition.

The ITS Advisory Committee, made up of technology-savvy faculty members who advise ITS on its policies, will examine the effects of a possible switch from the current student e-mail client, Horde, to Gmail and will make a recommendation to ITS administrators by the fall. ITS originally planned to make the switch for next semester, but students and faculty raised concerns about Gmail’s privacy and security policies, causing ITS to postpone the changeover. ITS Director Philip Long then drafted a recommendation that the University migrate its student e-mail services to Gmail, and Provost Peter Salovey referred the question to the advisory committee.

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Long’s proposal cited cost savings, a superior user experience and the availability of advanced tools like document storage and shared calendars as key benefits to the proposed move to Google Apps for Education, a free provider of e-mail and other applications offered exclusively to schools and universities.

“Both Microsoft and Google offer comprehensive e-mail and collaboration suites,” the proposal stated. “Based on their offerings, evaluations by other schools and the popularity among students of these systems, ITS recommends Gmail as the appropriate choice.”

Long said he expects the deliberation process, which begins this spring with appointing new committee members, to be a long one. Once selected, the new committee members will continue discussion into the fall. The members of the committee generally include a number of technically oriented faculty from computer science, engineering and related departments, while still providing broad institutional representation.

As part of the decision-making process, Long said, the committee will reach out for advice to the University community, who may e-mail comments and questions about the Gmail proposal to student.gmail@yale.edu. While some students and faculty have said they welcome a move away from Horde — which is often criticized for its unfriendly user interface and slow loading speed — others expressed fears about Google’s privacy policy.

Long’s proposal said any single-source Webmail provider, which unifies e-mail services with other applications such as calendars, would benefit students. He added in an interview that the ITS Advisory Committee will also consider moving to single-source Webmail providers other than Gmail, such as Microsoft Live or Zimbra.

If the faculty committee does approve a switch, the process will be smooth, Long said.

“We anticipate we could finalize a contract and complete technical preparation within three months,” Long wrote in an e-mail. “We would provide roughly a year for existing student clients to migrate, and we would schedule a shut down of current student e-mail services to coincide with the end of an academic year.”

Jeff Keltner, manager of Google Apps for Education, said the process of migrating to Google Webmail services is a relatively seamless one and is usually left to the individual university to handle. In one case, Marshall University switched to Google Apps in less than 100 hours, providing 55,000 faculty and students with Gmail accounts, he said.

A survey released in fall 2009 by the Campus Computing Project revealed that more than 80 percent of American universities were either using or considering using cloud computing e-mail providers such as Gmail, which store data in many geographically scattered servers, rather than centralized locations. Of these schools, the survey found, 65 percent of private research universities eventually chose Gmail, with another 32 percent opting for Microsoft’s services.

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