Communications

U Arizona Moves Staff to Cloud-Based Microsoft E-Mail and Calendaring

Students remain on Google Apps, with option for Live@edu services

The University of Arizona in Tucson will be moving 18,000 staff members to cloud-based e-mail and calendar applications from Microsoft that will include a larger inbox quota, instant messaging, and tools for holding online meetings. This will be the first major change to employee e-mail in about seven years, the university said.

U Arizona has selected Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite to replace the university's legacy WebMail and Meeting Maker calendar program and other systems purchased by individual departments. Employees will get 10 GB mailboxes, up from 250 MB, as well as access to features such as instant messaging, presence, and online meetings with the ability to share their desktop, audio, or video with other users on or off campus.

"With Microsoft's cloud-based service, we found a solution that will essentially bring us into the 21st century for communications tools. We have a complex environment and our employees demand modern-day technologies and Exchange functionality to be successful at their jobs," said CIO Michele Norin. "We also have federal programs we need to comply with, so meeting [International Traffic in Arms Regulation] and HIPAA rules is critical, and we came away more confident that Microsoft can help keep us be compliant."

"We completed an exhaustive study to compare different providers and how their tools integrated with our needs for e-mail and calendaring, which solution offered the best synchronization with a handheld device, as well as security and privacy requirements," said Derek Masseth, the university's senior director of infrastructure services. "The team at UA was impressed by the depth of the features and the functionality of [Microsoft's online suite.] This Microsoft solution was the one offering that truly met the needs of all of our constituents so they won't feel like they will have a downgrade in service. It will also free up resources to allow the IT department to focus on supporting grants and classroom work that map to the research and instructional missions of our institution."

The university also said it plans to provide students with an option to sign up for a Windows Live ID on Microsoft's Live@edu service for access to Office Web Apps and Windows Live SkyDrive.

However, in the fall student accounts were migrated to CatMail, a branded service provided through Google Apps Education Edition. Google Apps, a free system, was considered as an e-mail and calendaring replacement for employees, but Microsoft won out because Google didn't offer all the functions campus employees have identified as necessary, Masseth said.

For example, the Microsoft product allows users to delegate management of individual calendars to other users, a common requirement among supervisors or upper-level administrators whose assistants manage their schedules. To make Google's functionality comparable to that of Microsoft would have required separate purchase of several addons, thus eliminating the allure of a free system, Masseth said.

To pay for the Microsoft product, the IT organization will redirect money invested into the existing campus systems, Norin said. "We'll probably need to infuse maybe a few new dollars there but it'll be worth it on the other end. We're going to get a lot more for what we're currently investing."

U Arizona's migration to the Microsoft services will begin in the next few weeks with the goal of having all campus employees on the new system by fall 2010. IT will hold a series of forums to get feedback from the campus community on how the new system should be rolled out and its features used.

"One of my primary concerns is adoption of the new features and not treating just this like the same old mail with a new face," Masseth said. "This product set has the strong potential to revolutionize the way we communicate and collaborate at the University of Arizona, and the only way it will is if we really make sure that people are adopting the feature set and using it to its fullest potential."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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