Special Annual Awards
2008 Campus Technology Innovators: Collaboration Tools
THE COMPREHENSIVE E-MAIL conversion at Texas A&M involved 80,000 maiboxes and more than
22 million messages in the mailstore, yet the migration required only 12 hours of downtime.
TECHNOLOGY AREA: COLLABORATION TOOLS
Innovator: Texas A&M University
When a campus is forced to replace an outmoded
e-mail system from the ground up, technologists and
administrators opt for a full-featured, multi-faceted
collaboration system instead-- and more than just
communication takes off.
With the 2007 fall semester drawing to a close and the campus
community winding down for the holidays, campus IT leaders at Texas A&M University were gearing up
for a major overhaul of their campus communications
systems. The problem they were facing had a familiar
ring-- one echoed on many other campuses across
the country: "Our legacy e-mail system is stuck in the
early 2000s!" Of course, students, faculty, and staff
were growing increasingly tech-savvy and had been
exposed to full-featured consumer e-mail and collaboration
services, so expectations were running high
on campus. The migration to a new solution had to
be smooth and timely, and the new system had to
offer much more than basic e-mail.
As Michael W. Bolton, associate director for systems,
explains, the Texas A&M IT team, headed by
Senior Information Technology Manager Cheryl Cato,
moved quickly to replace the universitys old Sendmail
system in a compressed time frame and with relatively
few problems. The conversion was extensive,
including all 80,000 mailboxes and more than 22 million
messages in the mailstore. "We had to change
years of support procedures and processes," says
Bolton, "from provisioning new accounts for customers,
to deleting accounts for people who left the university.
Everything had to change."
By full production cutover on February 2, 2008-- a mere three
weeks from initial installation and testing-- the entire university
e-mail customer base had been moved to the Zimbra Collaboration
Suite platform. There had been only
12 hours of downtime. The new e-mail and collaboration platform
was integrated with hardware, software, and storage platforms
from IBM, Novell, and
NetApp, without incident.
Texas A&Ms communications
infrastructure upgrade not only
brought the campus up-to-date,
but also provides IT with the
tools to respond to future
But the real excitement came with the knowledge that the
entire university communications infrastructure had been
upgraded to provide constituents a true collaboration system,
one that not only would bring the campus up-to-date, but also
would provide tools to respond to future constituent expectations.
IT leaders knew they were fostering a culture of engagement
throughout the campus, with better storage, mobile
options, and a thorough collaboration experience. Calendaring
was turned on from day one, immediately offering the
whole campus an entirely new communications hub.
The intensive conversion to the new platform was successful
and timely, but the Texas A&M IT team isnt stopping there.
"Zimlets" that create an interface for third-party programs to
be hooked into the collaboration suite allow more applications
to work inside the suite. Business units on campus will be
encouraged to develop solutions tailored to their departments.
The IT department already has received dozens of
requests for new collaboration Zimlets incorporating Flickr, Twitter, Amazon, RSS feeds, the iCal standard
for campus events, and more. Many paper-driven
processes already have been replaced with e-mail,
offering a huge cost savings, and the university will
leverage other paperless processes. Technologists
currently are working on a secure IM system for
researchers and for other document-sharing applications--
services that university administrators and
educators hope will increase collaboration further.
The team also is expecting improvements on the
back end. The university's NetApp storage solution
ultimately will leverage the migration of e-mail from
high-performance disk to possibly slower, higher-capacity
storage. Customers will receive even larger
storage quotas while the university realizes cost
Says Bolton, "When we completed the conversion
and the servers were back online, the first message we received was a big thank-you note from a student.
When we implemented the service, we never anticipated how
popular it would be; customers who never used the server are
now asking for accounts." His advice to other IT organizations
considering extensive technology upgrades? "Dont be afraid
to step into such a big change; just remember that keeping
people informed is key."