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IT Considers outsourcing Ole Miss email to Google

Petre Thomas

 

Of all the forms of communication on this campus, email is at the top of the list. 

Tasks including student to teacher communication and UM Today is communicated through the privately-run Ole Miss webmail system. 

For the past year, the Ole Miss Office of Information Technology has been investigating a switch from the private system to Gmail. The IT department is now seeking student body opinion on whether opting for a Google-run email system is something that the university wants to pursue. 

This past week, three open meetings were held in the Student Union to discuss the possibility. A committee was assembled to guide the process, and a poll available at MyOleMiss seeks to gather student opinion.

The program that Google offers under “Google Apps for Education” has many perks, including 25 GB of storage, which is over 200 times more than the current system, a calendar and Google Docs, which allows for document sharing. 

“I think that switching to Gmail would be a good idea because of all the space it offers, and it’s such a widely used email system,” Jennybeth Hendrick, a sophomore from Corinth, said.

Gmail also supports mobile access, unlike the Ole Miss webmail system.

While highly popular among some students, the possibility of an outsourced email does raise some concern.

In the Wednesday focus group meeting, Kathy Gates, chief information officer for IT, said there are some privacy issues that cause concern. 

The university wants to make sure Google will keep its word of remaining a free service and not sell email addresses to other companies.

If Ole Miss allows the Google Company to handle its email information, then Google will have access to all of the university’s information sent over email. 

Despite some security concerns, the Gmail system would solve some glitches in the current system. 

“The biggest problem with our email now is the quota issue,” Gates said. “The second biggest is mobile configuration.”

Another benefit of outsourcing to Google is that university disk space would be freed up for other purposes. 

The IT department processes millions of emails each day, 91 percent of which are spam. Allowing Google to handle Ole Miss email would eliminate this job from the IT department. The two sites, however, would still have to coordinate.

The final decision will be announced at the end of September. If passed, the program would be up and running in February 2012. The IT department said it is still working out the technological aspects of how the switch would actually happen. 

One issue is getting the students’ folders to switch. Gmail has “labels” that work as folders. IT is hoping to have some way of converting one to another, but is still working on that.