CIO's Blog

Stephen Frazier, Western Illinois University

Email in the Cloud

The following is an executive summary of IT Governance proposal #42 -“Implement Google Apps for Education at WIU” – written by Dr. Justin Ehrlich, Computer Sciences professor and co-Chair of the IT Governance Marketing/External Alliance.

This proposal will be presented at the next IT Governance Council meeting at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 28, 2016 (in Horrabin Hall 1/QC Complex 2204). The meeting is open to the entire WIU community, and students, faculty and staff will be given an opportunity to make brief remarks concerning the proposal.  You are welcome and encouraged to view details on this proposal and provide additional feedback (note that the proposal details and forum are only accessible from an on-campus computer or via WIU’s VPN).


 

Last year an IT Governance proposal was made to move from Zimbra to a cloud-based service. The basis of this proposal (Proposal #42) was to save the University money by using Google Apps for Education (GAE) to host our email and calendar, while at the same time offering more services such as unlimited drive space, shared folders that can be set up by individuals, a superior interface, real-time collaboration (Google Docs), and alumni life-time WIU email addresses.

By using Google to host our email and calendar, we won’t have to continue to replace or maintain our Zimbra software and VMware servers, saving us between $55,000 and $72,000/year and between 250 and 500 hours/year of personnel time, allowing these resources to be used for other areas and services.

The proposal has gone before the Student Government Association, Faculty Senate and the IT Governance Administration Alliance, all of which voted that we make the move to a cloud-based service. While the SGA voted that the switch be made directly to GAE, the Faculty Senate and IT Governance Alliance asked that a task force be created to compare the available platforms and to decide which platform, if any, might serve WIU the best.

Last semester the task force was formed by a representative from the Quad Cities appointed by the Vice President of Quad Cities and Planning, two administrator and staff representatives appointed by the ITG Admin Alliance, four University Technology members appointed by the Chief Information Officer, the director of Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research, the chair of the ITG Executive Committee, and five dean-appointed faculty members to represent the colleges and library. The task force narrowed the available options down to Microsoft Office 365 for Education and GAE, and ultimately decided on GAE for its superior interface, functionality, and campus familiarity. To augment task force’s decision, a survey was sent out to the entire campus. Of the 1,420 respondents, 79% responded that the University should move from Zimbra to a cloud-based platform, 93% reported a familiarity to Google gmail, and 71% responded that we should move to GAE. The accumulated survey data is included in chapter 4 of the full report, and the comments are located in appendix II. The task force received a few emails, which are anonymously included in appendix III.

While Google Apps for Education is free, Google will have access to our data. Under contract Google will not run ads or analyze University or student data for purposes of ads, but they can still analyze users’ activities for purposes of improving services. Also Google will not make any guarantees as to where the data resides. While we will be able to choose to base our data in the United States, pieces of our data may be migrated for performance reasons. For instance, if a faculty travels to the UK and accesses data stored in the cloud, that data may temporarily be migrated to the Dublin data center. While this might be considered an added risk, under contract Google is subject to FERPA. The FERPA clause stipulates that Google is considered a “School Official” and must protect our data in a way that is FERPA compliant. Further, the University remains the owner of all data stored in GAE. To provide administrative access to the users’ data, Google provides a tool, Google Vault, that features e-discovery, email archiving, email and file searching, removal, and audit reports.

The original proposal called for the University to replace the P:\ drive with Google Drive. However, after researching Google Drive, we found that there is no easy way to implement Google Drive in the computer labs due to not being able to map a drive letter unless the files are synced. We’ve also received requests from the University community to retain the P:\ drive for a variety of reasons. The task force looked at the costs of maintaining the P:\ drive and found that it is insignificant when compared to maintaining the Zimbra servers, so we recommend not replacing the P:\ drive. However, we do recommend enabling the Google Drive functionality, as this won’t require any additional costs and adds a lot of functionality, including collaboration tools using Google Apps.

In conclusion the cloud services task force recommends that the University replace Zimbra email and calendar with GAE. The campus community should have all of the GAE features available to them, including Google Classroom, Google Sites, Google Drive, and Google Docs. While migrating to GAE will take time, we believe that if the process is started this semester, the University can be fully migrated by the end of Summer 2016 in time for the Fall 2016 semester.

A complete report on this proposal includes the timeline of this proposal (chapter 2) comparison that the task force made between GAE and Office 365 for Education (chapter 3), the survey aggregate data (chapter 4), the Google Apps for Education terms of service (chapter 5), notes from other institutions (Appendix I), the survey comments (Appendix II), email questions/comments (Appendix III), and frequently asked questions (Appendix IV).


We welcome additional feedback, comments and discussion on this proposal via our online forums. The forums, as well as the complete details on the proposal, are accessible from on-campus computers or via WIU’s VPN.

 

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Author: Stephen Frazier, CIO

Stephen Frazier heads up the University Technology department as the CIO at Western Illinois University. He can be reached at sl-frazier@wiu.edu.

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