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Gmail: Contract causes potential delay

By Hallie Jordan     5/17/11 7:00pm

The switch from webmail to Gmail encountered delays when Google reissued the contract they originally asked Rice to sign earlier this month.

Because Google renews and designs their contracts often, Rice lawyers were working with an old contract, Director for Systems, Infrastructure and Architecture Barry Ribbeck said.



"We are proceeding as if this is going to happen," Ribbeck said. "There are beneficial actions to the institution but we have to make sure it's right."

After deciding that the contract was almost finalized, Google representatives told them the contract had changed, restarting the process, Ribbeck said.

"There are things in the contract right now that we aren't comfortable with," Ribbeck said. "We can't allow the university to be vulnerable. Email is more than an interface."

The idea to switch to Gmail came from graduate students who approached IT, Ribbeck said.

Only in the past year have enough Rice students shown an interest in using Gmail to have the university consider switching, Ribbeck said.

In 2007 only one percent of students were forwarding their mail to an off campus email provider, whether it was Gmail or not. By 2009 this number rose to 14 percent and by 2010 to 23 percent, with 71 percent of these students using Google as the provider, Ribbeck said.

"It did not seem neceessary to use Google until now," Ribbeck said.

As of now, only the undergraduates would switch, leaving faculty, staff and graduate students with webmail.

"Right now we see the undergraduates as the easiest bunch to move over from a privacy standpoint," Ribbeck said.

If the switch happens graduating students would only get to keep their Rice email address for two years after commencing, not forever as originally planned.

One major concern about Rice switching to Gmail is that the university will lose direct control over the email service, Ribbeck said. If the Gmail server goes down, for instance, Rice has no control over fixing it.

Maintaining privacy is another main issue surrounding the switch, Ribbeck said. If the data from Rice is in a different country and operated by Gmail, Rice could have no ability to control what is going on with it, he said.

However, Ribbeck said he feels the benefits offered by Gmail outweigh the risks.

Martel College senior Selim Sheik said he felt students are very happy to make the switch.

"I think its fantastic and I think a lot of students already forward Rice email," Sheik said. "Everyone was really excited and a lot people are wondering why we haven't done this earlier."

Ribbeck said students should assume that the change will happen, whether or not it occurs by the initial target date.

"Both Rice and Google are moving to make this work and I don't think it's going to fail."



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