ITS considers new e-mail possibilities

Rebecca Carton

Iowa State’s Information Technology Services is currently looking into ways to ditch WebMail and pick up a new e-mail system.

James Davis, ITS vice provost and chief information officer, said the organization has been researching and evaluating different options for e-mail systems for quite a while.

“We’ve been looking at this probably about a year-and-a-half now,” he said. “The goal was to bring more functionality to our e-mail systems, especially for students.”

Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Windows Live are the front-runners in the e-mail update. However, David Popelka, ITS assistant to the CIO, said he changes his mind frequently when he considers all options, including America Online and Yahoo.

“It changes almost every day,” he said. “When we did a feature check about six months ago, Google seemed to be pretty much hands-down the most feature-rich set of applications we were looking at. I’d say Google and Microsoft are probably the most feature-rich.”

Davis said the idea behind updating the campus e-mail system started with a campus survey in 2004. From the survey, ITS concluded that one of the main features students would like to see integrated with the system is a calendar.

“We’ve been thinking about that – how we can get there [and] sampling different products that have come along,” he said. “We’d like to have that type of service available, [and] Google has a lot of collaborative tools.”

Another desired feature Davis mentioned was the ability to integrate mobile devices.

“They’re becoming

Davis said that, by integrating mobile devices, ITS could offer “seamless IT support” for students with devices such as BlackBerry units.

“I think that Microsoft or the Google option does bring that to the table,” he said.

Davis said Gmail and Windows Live seem to be the two e-mail systems that look best to adopt campuswide. Both systems offer more than six gigabytes of server space, while WebMail only offers one.

Davis said the current e-mail system on campus costs $450,000. Outsourcing e-mail to another system will not necessarily cut costs for ITS, however.

“There will be some saving in the sense that we won’t have to replace servers as quickly as we used to,” he said.

Popelka said that by outsourcing the campus e-mail, ITS could help save money when the costs of providing its own e-mail system goes up in the future.

ITS currently pays $5,000 per year for anti-spam and anti-virus software, but Popelka said he has been told that a change could bring that cost to anywhere between $100,000 to $200,000 per year.

“There’s potential for savings,” he said. “Our server count should go down from what we offer today. It’s not what we’re paying today, but [a cost increase] is coming.”

In addition to conducting its own investigation, ITS has also been in discussion with colleges that have outsourced their e-mail systems, including Arizona State University and Northwestern University.

One thing that could stop ITS from outsourcing e-mail to a system like Google is privacy concerns.

“That would be part of the investigation and certainly is an issue,” Davis said. “That would be a stopper for us if there were privacy concerns. We’re not aware, currently, of any [concerns].”

Popelka said there are currently no concerns for the privacy of Gmail users’ personal information.

“All we can do is ask hard questions about what they will do with the information,” he said. “They do not share any personal information without the explicit OK of an individual.”

However, Popelka said Google scans through e-mails, much like a virus or spam-checking scanner, for advertising purposes.

“All e-mail that goes through them is scanned through a program for the purpose of identifying keywords for advertising,” he said. “No human eyes see that information. The only reason they do that is to target the appropriate advertising.”

Davis said ITS plans to have a set of thoughts on the campus e-mail change out by June in order to open the topic up to student discussion.really prevalent, I think,” he said.