College to switch to Google Applications 'as soon as possible'

By Amy Ledig

The switch from Oracle Collaboration Suite to Google Applications for Education has been accelerated from occurring within the calendar year to happening within the next few days, Associate Vice President of ITS Jerry Sanders said Wednesday. ITS plans to have everyone signed up and using Google Apps by March 31.”Our tentative ‘as soon as possible’ means we intend to put on the web the ability to register yourself with Google Apps within the next few days,” he said.

Vice President of Administration and Finance David Wheaton said that the college sped up the switchover process “because we don’t think Oracle’s stable enough. We don’t want to live like this anymore.”

“We made the decision to [switch to Google Apps] in February, before all this came down. This is not the sudden response to a crisis,” he said.

The switchover has already started on some parts on campus – all ITS staff who had not already begun using the program during the Email Workgroup’s search and evaluation process were moved over on Tuesday.

“Switching over means send and receive,” stressed David Sisk, associate director of ITS, about the coming stage.

The move to Google Apps will be a three-part process, the first being getting all students, faculty and staff registered and using their new Google Apps emails. The second phase will be to switch over the mail OCS users have accumulated in their inboxes as well as address book information. This will occur “as soon as possible after phase one,” said Kelly Bourke, telecommunications manager. The third phase includes the implementation of the calendaring feature.

“I think it’s going to be a little frustrating because it’s not going to be there all at once,” Alumni Relations Assistant Janice Dickinson said.

E-mail addresses will remain the same, despite the program used to access e-mail changing.

When the power went out on campus Sunday, March 3, the server was brought down in a way it could not handle and operating system files were severely damaged. ITS has been working with Oracle technicians to try to remedy the problem, but there have been significant windows when OCS is unavailable.

OCS’ shoddy performance has become the excuse of choice on campus among students for things not happening. It has also legitimately caused disruptions with accessing emails and communicating with professors and classmates, arranging interviews and working out details for summer internships and programs.

“Initially I was pretty excited because if the professor can’t send me an email, I don’t have to do my homework,” Rose Holdorf ’11 said. “But it’s problematic because it’s right before midterms, there’s stuff you can’t [get to.]”

Staff and faculty have also been disrupted by the frequent downtime in the last few days.

“Everything takes so much more time, and it’s so much harder to send group emails,” said Eily Marlow, associate for the Lilly Project. “We get into the habit of saving correspondence, and that’s impossible to get to.”

“We had to reprioritize,” Internship Director Michael Porter said. “We just finished placing 122 interns. It just kind of slowed everything down.”

Not everyone is so convinced that the system being down is such a bad thing, though.

“I’m conflicted because I hate e-mail and I’m glad that I can’t get mine, but there are important jobs one has to do,” Religious Studies professor Jim Laine said. “I lived in the pre-e-mail era at Macalester, and we used to send handwritten notes to students through the SPO [and voicemails].”

He added that the Asian Studies department had trouble promoting speakers who were coming because of the email situation.

Timing seemed to be on ITS’ side when it came to making the decision to switch over sooner than they had anticipated.

“It was ready and we felt really confident with the selection and recommendation [of Google Apps,] so that was really in Mac’s favor,” Sanders said. “The accelerated schedule was just logical.”

Rather than expending more resources to bring back OCS to its pre-power outage status, the college decided it made more sense to move forward with implementing Google Apps, Sanders said.

IMAP has been turned off since shortly after OCS went a little under two weeks ago, preventing campus users from accessing their Macalester emails through Thunderbird.

“I think Thunderbird is ten times better than OCS,” said Pat Traynor, executive assistant for the dean of students, adding that she was frustrated trying to use OCS, and that she had heard many complaints from the student employees in the office about the problems with it. “I set up a Gmail account, I know a number of us did.There’s part of me that feels bad for ITS, but you’ve got to think, with all those brains, you can’t figure that out?

“I think everyone feels the same way – you try to be understanding, but it’s been what, 11 days?”

As of Wednesday, ITS was unable to give a precise explanation for what students would have to do in order to begin using Google Apps. Sanders said that these details would be finalized at meetings during the day on Thursday. ITS is setting up a webpage that will centralize information about the switch, and should shed light on how the process is occurring and will include the Email Workgroup’s report recommending Google Apps so the campus community can understand more about why the program was chosen. ITS encourages those interested in finding out more to check the site, www.macalester.edu/its/googleapps/.

“They should know this is above and far away the best product available,” Sisk said.

Sanders, Borke, and Sisk report that the response to Google Apps has been overwhelmingly positive. They said they felt Google Apps was more user-friendly, which Traynor seconded.

“It’s a great step forward for Macalester,” Holdorf said.

“There will be some hiccups because of the speed,” Wheaton said, “but we’ll figure those out.