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Let the Games Begin! Google vs. Microsoft

At the recent Campus Technology Conference in Boston, both Google and Microsoft were on the showroom floor competing for the education market. Drexel University reinforced the battle of these two corporate giants via a session "IT as a Service: E-mail and Web Services from Goggle and Microsoft." The session description read, "At Drexel University, IT is truly a service. IT leaders there focus on providing the right service and fostering innovation, rather than focusing on technology. Sometimes, offering the right service means outsourcing, which is why Drexel recently embraced student e-mail and Web services from both Goggle and Microsoft."  
Drexel University, known as "Philadelphia's Technological University," has long been at the forefront of higher education technological firsts. In 1983, long before today's students were born, Drexel required all students to have access to a personal computer -- the Apple Macintosh. As the technology landscape has rapidly changed, Drexel's IT strategy has also changed, from being prescriptive (i.e. what technology hardware and software students must own), to a technology strategy based on student choice.

Drexel abandoned its "one size, one vendor fits all" computer requirement and distribution facility in the mid-90s and opted instead for a new model -- a virtual computer store accessible via Drexel's Web site that emphasized students' choice of vendor platform. All students are still required to own a personal computer, but Drexel is out of the costly and labor-intensive purchase, distribution, and maintenance businesses. Instead, Drexel's role has changed to developing student computer specifications, negotiating competitive pricing with vendors, and maintaining virtual storefronts. As technology has become commoditized (hardware, software, and services), the "take up" decision has quickly moved from the institution to the individual.

In today's world of wikis, blogs, IMing, YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, and WebKinz (yes, this generation will soon be knocking at your door) is there any reason a higher education institution would continue to prescribe IT services to students who have been brought up in a click-away world of cloud computing? The answer is clearly no!

Drexel has recognized the IT as a Service business and provides Bb Vista; SunGard Higher Education Banner Student, Finance, Human Resources, and Luminis Portal applications; and Microsoft "school of the future" learning and collaboration tools, as well as Internet2 connectivity to a number of institutions. At the same time, pursuing a strategy as a consumer of services and choice, Drexel has partnered with both Google and Microsoft to provide students with massive e-mail mailboxes, gigabytes of file storage with collaboration tools, Web-based calendars, personal blogs, and more.

LinkEdu, Drexel's industry partner program, stands apart in higher education because it combines the strengths of the world's largest information technology companies with Drexel's own technology leadership. Unlike universities that have offered only outsourced online services for students, Drexel will continue to offer its in-house e-mail, calendar, and storage services to provide students with more choices and capabilities than other college students. The additional Google and Microsoft services cost Drexel students nothing and have identification.

These partnerships are an example of Drexel's commitment to providing students with not only state-of-the-art technology but also greater personal options and choice to help develop their creativity and talent. LinkEdu will provide students with more than 30 GB of storage from accounts offered by Google Apps Education Edition and Microsoft Live@edu -- students have the option of using any or all of the LinkEdu services.

Drexel, partnered with Microsoft to build and test next-generation e-mail and collaboration capabilities, was one of the first universities in the U.S. to deploy Exchange Labs for all of its students. Exchange Labs now provides an additional 10 GB of e-mail storage, online calendars, and contact lists, all with the industry-standard Microsoft Outlook user interface on desktop computers, Web browsers, or mobile phones including the much-hyped iPhone.

To get additional insight into the vendors' strategies, watch Network World's video from the show [video by NetworkWorld.TV; or see links to Network World's video and text coverage of this topic]. The playing field is set; the "kick off" at Drexel begins in September. We now have to wait to see who will win the gold!

About the Author

John A. Bielec is Vice President/CIO at Drexel University.

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