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ITS Considers Move to Google Apps

By
March 29, 2007

For several weeks, Swarthmore’s Information Technology Services department has been pondering whether or not to move the school from its current self-hosted e-mail and calendar system to Google’s web-based alternative, Google Apps.

Swarthmore is always looking for ways to improve it services. Before focusing in on Google Apps, the school considered a series of alternative methods for meeting the school’s rapidly growing needs. Microsoft Exchange, for instance, was ruled out because it would put even more stress on ITS’ budget and resources, explained Robin Jacobsen, ITS’ Associate Director of Client Services.

Google Apps is very appealing to ITS because student already voted for this with their feet. As reported in an earlier Gazette article, more than 470 students, a third of the student body, forward their Swarthmore email to Google Mail accounts.

The service is provided at no charge to educational institutions, and it offers a wide variety of integrated pieces of software including email, calendars, Jabber-protocol-based instant messengering, text documents, and even spreadsheets. The system even removes the traditional ads from each of Google’s pages.

More importantly, the software giant would be able to offer a “robust development cycle” and higher up-times than the College can feasibly provide on its own. The corporation guarantees 99.9% uptime, compared to the 98.1% that the College has maintained thus far—and those tiny differences can count.

If Swarthmore moves the school’s email and calendar system to Google Apps, this could dramatically change how Swarthmore students use the internet. At meetings for ITS’ permanent and student staff, many people suggested that the move could completely obviate the need for Reserved Students Digest emails. Interested students could instead subscribe to group calendars.

Others suggest that if Swarthmore moves to Google Apps, the school could potentially offer permanent e-mail addresses to alumni.

Equally importantly, a switch to Google Apps would free up some members of ITS’ staff from system maintenance, thereby accelerating other projects at the school.

Swarthmore is not alone in pondering whether or not to move the school from self-hosted email to other providers. Bowdoin College recently chose to take a different path, adopting Microsoft Exchange. Just three weeks ago, Trinity College in Hartford officially switched to Google Apps. Google offers Arizona State University, Hofstra University, and Manhattan Christian College as three other institutions that have adopted Google Apps.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Google touts Arizona State University as a “case study” that can illustrate how to apply Google Apps, Arizona State University’s campus newspaper, The Web Devil reports that “ASU officials are waiting for a tool from Google.” This campus newspaper claims the school has yet to formally move to the software bundle. It is also worth noting that Arizona State University pays “a $10,000 annual fee for maintenance and help-desk questions.” According to ITS, Swarthmore will not pay any fees for the service.

If Swarthmore does decide to move to Google Apps, the change will happen soon. Jacobsen suggests this might potentially starting for the class of 2011.

ITS has been surprised by the lack of a wider student response to the considerations. A handful of ITS student-staff will begin testing the system shortly. ITS hopes to attract.

If you are interested in beta-testing Google Apps, sending at email to Robin Jacobsen [ jacobsen@swarthmore.edu ]