Library and Information Services (LIS) recently completed a small pilot implementation of Google email and calendar services for selected LIS staff. The pilot project followed a semester-long investigation of options to replace our existing email and calendar services. LIS recommends implementing hosted Google email and calendar services for the entire Wheaton community.
Beginning in Fall 2011 LIS undertook an investigation of options to our current email and calendar services. The investigation was driven, in part, because our existing services, especially our online calendar services, do not meet the needs of staff who increasingly use mobile computing devices, such as iPhones and iPads, to access email and calendar agendas.
Meeting Maker, our current calendar product, has been particularly frustrating for mobile users. The product itself is not compatible with mobile devices, and so requires a third party software application (NotifyLink) in order to work with iPhones and other smart phones. Even then the synchronization of desktop calendars, mobile calendars, and meeting invitations is not done well. Our Wheaton email system cannot integrate with Meeting Maker.
Another motivation for the investigation of email and calendar services, in particular services hosted offsite, is part of a larger discussion regarding allocation of staff resources. Email, while an essential communications tool, is also a tool now readily provided by several third-party service providers. Online calendar services are now also readily provided by several third-party service providers. In both cases the implementation of hosted services would allow us to eventually reallocate the staff time spent on the provision and maintenance of email and calendar services. Moving to a hosted environment would also allow Wheaton to take advantage of product development that is currently not possible with our level of staff resources.
A third motivation for our investigation was possible cost reduction for ongoing services. Locally hosted email and calendar services require a technical infrastructure of hardware and software which must be renewed on a regular basis. LIS currently pays approximately $15,000 annually in software license costs for our email and calendar products. We pay an additional $3,000 annually for 20 licenses for NotifyLink. Individual departments pay $150 (also annually) per license for additional NotifyLink licenses. Our hardware environment for email and calendar services comprises a server, storage unit, and email archive storage unit. The current replacement estimate is $25,000, with replacement due in Summer 2013.
LIS recommends moving forward with a campuswide project to engage the Wheaton community in a change of email and calendar services. Specifically, we recommend moving to externally-hosted email and calendar services provided by the Google Apps for Education Suite. We envision several benefits to moving to Google services:
Business Continuity: Current email and calendar services are dependent on the data center located in Park Hall. In the advent of power or equipment failure in Park Hall, email and calendar communications will not be possible. Current response to and recovery from outages is dependent on local utilities, hardware vendor response, and staffing. Because Google’s service is distributed over servers throughout the world, the likelihood of an outage is very small.
Cost Reductions: There will be no need to maintain local infrastructure and software licenses for email and calendar services.
Recouping Staff Time: By adopting an externally hosted solution like Google, staff time currently spent maintaining and troubleshooting email and calendar services can eventually be reallocated to services such as network and information security, virtual desktop deployment, and business continuity projects.
Expanded Email Quotas: Each Wheaton community member would be allocated 25 gigabytes of email storage. Wheaton community members are each currently limited to 1 gigabyte of email storage. Expanding the quotas within our local system would require additional investment in infrastructure.
Expanded Calendar Services: Currently, we have a limited number of Meeting Maker licenses and could not expand services to the entire Wheaton community without additional investment. The Google calendar will be available to all faculty, staff, and students.
Feature Development: Local staff resources are sufficient simply to maintain existing services. No development, enhancement, or expansion of services is currently possible. Google offers a rich calendar and email environment, which is continuously developed and enhanced.
Wheaton Email for Life: There is the possibility of adding Wheaton Email for Life services for alumae/i at no additional expense.
Additional Google Apps: In addition to email and calendar services, the Wheaton community will have the option of accessing many of the rest of Google services, such as the Google Docs collaboration environment, Blogger, Google Sites, and Picasa Web Albums. Wheaton will benefit from a suite of online services which will not require local infrastructure or maintenance.