CIO's Blog

Stephen Frazier, Western Illinois University

Gmail and Google Apps to Replace Zimbra

gmail-logoAn edited version of the following article appeared in the April 11 issue of the Western Courier.

Western Illinois University is moving from Zimbra to Gmail and Google Apps this spring and summer. This change has been over two years in the making, and originated with a proposal submitted in March 2014 to WIU’s IT Governance process.

“The idea behind IT Governance is to engage the entire campus community as full-fledged partners in IT decision making,” said Stephen Frazier, WIU’s Chief Information Officer who leads University Technology.  “The proposal to move to Google Apps was made through this governance process. The basic premise of the proposal was to save the University money while offering additional services such as unlimited drive space, shared folders that can be set up by individuals, a superior interface, and real-time collaboration.”

The proposal was reviewed by WIU’s Student Government Association, the Faculty Senate, and the Administrative Alliance (an IT Governance workgroup) for review and feedback. In November 2015, a task force comprised of individuals from across the University formally recommended that the University implement Google Apps. This recommendation was reviewed and approved by the President’s Leadership Team in early February 2016 and University Technology was subsequently directed to begin the transition.

The use of Google Apps by educational institutions such as Western is completely free, so the move from Zimbra (which has significant yearly costs and requires considerable man-hours to maintain) is an important cost saving measure. The business-class edition of Google Apps that WIU will be using is similar in feature sets to the free versions that anyone can access, but Google offers more support and storage for educational institutions.

University Technology’s goal is to have everyone (students, faculty, staff, retirees and alumni) moved from Zimbra to Google Apps by August 19 – just before the start of the fall semester. Nearly 700 early adopters have already been migrated from Zimbra to Google Apps. These early adopters are helping University Technology to ensure that the migration process of copying content from Zimbra to Gmail and Google Calendar is as flawless as possible for everyone else at the University that will be migrating between now and August.

“Popular applications such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Drive, Groups and Contacts will be the core applications that the University will support from the start,” said Frazier. “Other applications such as Hangouts, Docs, Sheets, Sites and more will also be available for use, but the support that we can offer when it comes to using and troubleshooting those apps will be limited.”

All users of WIU’s Google Apps will have unlimited storage for email, documents and files, which is a huge benefit over Zimbra’s storage limitations.  Additionally, they will be able to access the Google applications using the same ECom username and password they’ve always used to access systems like Zimbra and WesternOnline.

Matt Mencel, who serves as University Technology’s technical lead for the migration, said that “the unlimited storage space is a huge benefit to all users, students and employees alike.  And the collaborative nature of sharing documents and files using Google Drive and apps such as Google Docs will make group projects much easier to work on together.”

What won’t change?  According to Mencel, “Your WIU email address will remain the same, and all of your existing email messages and calendars will be copied over to Google services for you automatically.”  He added that “there are some things that users will need to manually do after they are migrated, such as re-create email contact groups and copy their Zimbra briefcase files to Google Drive. But we’ve automated the migration process for everything else that we can.”

Frazier said, “We know that many people are anxious to move to Google Apps!  We will be communicating frequently via email over the next few months with more information on the process. We anticipate moving entire departments to Google Apps during April and May, and then allowing remaining individuals to schedule a date/time to move starting in June. Please check your email between semesters for details!”

He also stated that WIU’s Google Apps transition team has created a website to answer questions regarding the move to Google Apps, as well as provide resources on how to use the various applications that Google provides. Visit for details, and contact the uTech Support Center at if you have further questions.

Frazier said that the transition team is bringing Google’s best collaborative, cloud-based solutions to the University.  “We are joining well over 40 million other people who are using Google Apps for Education”, he said.  Frazier is optimistic that faculty, staff and students will explore and find new ways to work and learn using Google Apps for Education.