Google Apps for Education to replace OCS

By Amy Ledig

After over a year of searching for a new email system, the Email Workgroup has recommended that Google Applications for Education replace Oracle Collaboration Suite, the college’s current email program.”They spent countless hours on research and [worked through] a whole list of criteria,” Associate Vice President of ITS Jerry Sanders said of the search team.

The Email Workgroup, composed of ITS and other staff members, was formed in January 2007 to find a replacement for OCS.

“We had decided as a workgroup to make a recommendation in mid-December. Then that recommendation went to Jerry Sanders and David Wheaton. In mid-January we decided as a group to take that to senior staff,” said Michael Nelson, Academic Information Associate for humanities at ITS and a Workgroup member.

Senior staff includes Chief Financial Officer David Wheaton, Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre, Provost Diane Michelfelder, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Lorne Robinson and President Brian Rosenberg.

Nelson said that one of the main factors that pushed the workgroup to recommend Google Apps for Education was that it would take email maintenance off-campus, freeing up network staff to deal with campus issues. The other was that Google updates its applications by constantly sending updates and patches to programs while they continue to operate, instead of the traditional model of taking programs offline to update, creating major disruptions to network activity.

Google Apps for Education would include Google’s popular Gmail email service, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, which allows users to share documents easily.

“We’re excited to be thinking of going with Google. It has elements that are exciting that go beyond email,” Sanders said, referring to additional aspects such as Google Documents and the Calendar application.

Wheaton also emphasized the importance of the other Google applications. He spoke about calendaring, which he said was a particularly important factor for staff.

“We tested the calendar too, and it’s good,” he said.

“Broadly, they want to make sure we have confidence in the institutional support for Google,” Wheaton said of the senior staff’s questions about the recommendation. He continued that they were “interested in compatibility with campus [accounts and users] and handheld devices, saying that the college wanted to keep up with modern technology.

He also said they were “interested in an overall understanding of reliability, since OCS has gone down a lot.”

“The administration is aware that there’s no perfect solution,” Wheaton said. But at the same time, he said that the college is “enthusiastic with the creativity Google has shown. [but] when something’s new, it’s new, which gives pause.”

“We want to affirmatively like what we did choose. We see some real positives in terms of. staying current and allowing the flexibility the campus needs in accessing email.”

The earlier parts of the process as laid out by Sanders were assessing the college’s needs, identifying possible replacements and evaluating the options available. The next step, now that the recommendation has been made, is to work through the legal issues involved in the switch, eventually beginning implementation once those are sorted out.

Wheaton said that the college is talking to its attorneys about the language of the contract with Google, and after that ITS will develop the rollout plan.

While the Email Workgroup had previously discussed having the new email system in place for the beginning of the year, recent estimates are more conservative.

“This is not something we’re trying to ram in in the next two months,” Wheaton said.

“The rest of this calendar year is the framework for the implementation,” Sanders said, backtracking from earlier statements by members of the Email Workgroup that the new system would be in place by the beginning of the next academic year.

“We’ll do it as soon as we feel we can do it well. We’re very hopeful for next school year.”

“I think everyone’s excited the end of OCS is approaching,” said Nelson. “The goal here is to make a good transition to a new product and make the transitio-n as painless as possible.