Monday, June 04, 2007

UCSC looks at outsourcing campus e-mail to Google


UC Santa Cruz is tossing around the idea of outsourcing its e-mail services to Google and replacing the university's CruzMail system with the popular Gmail, which would include a variety of glitzy new features already familiar to many college students.

Google says its new offering for colleges, called Google Apps for Education and launched last fall, can provide UCSC students with e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and personalized Web page creation with less of the hassle of installing and maintaining the current software and hardware on campus.

The move to Google could resolve recurring e-mail issues UCSC has faced under its current system, including server overcapacity, non-delivery and slow response time.

"Students are used to larger storage and better Web applications and schools are finding it challenging to meet those expectations," said Jeff Keltner, who oversees the company's Google Apps for Education, which is already being used by several hundred colleges nationwide.

Google is competing with such companies as Yahoo and Microsoft, which also offer campus e-mail services, and hopes to build company loyalty in users at a young age while extending the company's clout beyond its ubiquitous search engine.

Officials at UC headquarters in Oakland are close to finalizing a contract with Google that would allow schools in the 10-campus system to opt for the new service.

Brad Smith, who directs UCSC's computer and telecommunications systems, said the possibility of outsourcing e-mail at UCSC is a major sign of the times. "It's a way of saying that e-mail and messaging is becoming one of those basic infrastructure services needed to run an organization — like telephone service or data networks," he said.

"There are very different opinions on campus whether it is desirable," said Luca De Alfaro, a computer engineering professor who is studying the deal for UCSC.

At first, the service would be available only to students and made optional for faculty. Staff e-mail would continue to run through the old system.

But as long as two e-mail services are running concurrently, one through Google, the other at UCSC, the university won't be able to save much of the cost to run its own e-mail service, said Larry Merkley, vice provost of information technology.

Although Google, under the terms of its standard contract with colleges, promises not to place advertising in student e-mails, alumni are considered prime targets.

Under the new service, students can keep the address that originates from university's domain, meaning it will still end in To use it, they would be taken directly into a UCSC Web site that would have the look and feel of Gmail.

Google provides college users with two gigabytes of space, twice as much as CruzMail, which at one megabyte, is already one of the highest limits in the UC system, said Merkley.