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Rice Webmail begins shift to Gmail

By Tina Ou     5/22/12 7:00pm

After more than a year of planning, the switch is happening: Rice student email accounts will be transferred to Gmail by June 15.

Gmail is one of the services in the Google Apps for Education package that is now available to Rice undergraduates, according to Director of Systems, Architecture and Infrastructure Barry Ribbeck. Other applications include Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Rice considered the transfer to Gmail after the Graduate Student Association and the Student Association requested a move to Google at an Information Technology Advisory Committee meeting, Ribbeck said. The transfer, originally slated for last year, was pushed back due to unexpected delays in contract negotiations with Google.

The pilot program, which started in 2008, resulted in encouraging feedback for the transfer to Gmail, according to Ribbeck. He said pilot users were satisfied with Google's services, especially the integration functions. Ribbeck said that during the pilot period, Rice IT learned how to integrate Google services into the current infrastructure and how to work with different service providers.

"[The experience] helped us to understand how to meet today's mobility-and-data-everywhere-and-anytime expectations," Ribbeck said. "We learned that the cloud is new and evolving, and it is important to note that the sharing of documents and web sites is restricted to Rice users."

Ribbeck said he believes Gmail has more benefits than the current Webmail tool, such as functionality and continued expansion of features. Gmail will provide larger email quotas, integrated services, simple web-based applications and online self-service support, he said.

Director of Networking, Telecommunications and Data Center Operations William Deigaard said he thinks the Gmail transfer will be beneficial to Rice undergraduates.

He noted that the Gmail interface is familiar to many students, and Google has many resources on hand to continue improving the interface's capabilities and efficiency. Deigaard also cited the Priority Inbox feature as an innovative and useful tool.

Deigaard said Gmail will be offered only to undergraduate students and not graduate students, faculty or staff in order to protect the potentially sensitive data of Rice's administration.

"Primarily, undergraduates are not handling data that Rice has obligations to protect, manage, recover or duplicate," Deigaard said. "The current Rice Google Apps offering does not currently provide sufficient capabilities in these areas for Rice's administration."

However, Deigaard noted that faculty, staff and graduate students will still be able to use other parts of the Google package.

According to Deigaard, unless Google undergoes dramatic changes that negatively affect Rice or someone else offers a substantially better service, it is unlikely that the program with Google will end. Deigaard added that he foresees Rice offering additional educational resources in the future.

Ribbeck said there will be no option provided for whether or not to move to Google, though Rice may provide alternative accounts for research and institutional needs.

Contributors to the project included the SA, GSA, ITAC, the Office of General Council, the IT division, and the students, staff and faculty involved in the pilot program, Ribbeck said. Ribbeck added that the SA voted unanimously for the move to Google, a critical factor in the decision to make the switch.

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