California State University, Long Beach
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New E-Mail Systems For Campus

Published: April 15, 2011

A new and improved campus e-mail system for faculty and staff is coming your way.

Based on the results of a thorough evaluation, CSULB will switch over to single e-mail and calendar system when it implements Microsoft Exchange 2010, recent winner of InfoWorld’s 2011 Technology of the Year Award for Best Mail Server.

An e-mail system upgrade was deemed necessary due to feedback and requests from faculty and staff seeking an improved system. Complaints about the current system touched on its limitations, ranging from inadequate storage space to overall lack of features. The new system will allow individuals an increase in storage space – going from megabytes to gigabytes (GB). In addition, security features and the number of ways individuals can access messages will be greatly improved.

The new system will provide up to 10GB of mailbox space and is compatible with Windows and Macintosh-based operating systems as well as mobile devices. Access to the new e-mail system will be available through Outlook 2010 for PCs and Outlook 2011 for Macintosh e-mail clients and from any major web browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome) through the Outlook Web App.

“Campus executive leadership realized there was a need to provide a single e-mail system to all faculty and staff,” said Janet Foster, associate vice president for Information Technology Services (ITS), noting that ITS currently provides Lotus Notes and Webmail. In addition, an unknown number of other e-mail systems currently exist on the campus and numerous non-campus e-mail providers are used by individuals, “so the purpose of this project is to provide one system with ample storage, superior functionality and one global address list to enable more effective communication for campus faculty and staff. Of course, we’re really hoping people see this as a huge improvement.”

Exchange is a strong product in the marketplace and has been adopted by more than half the CSUs, noted ITS Project Coordinator Victoria Cleaveland.

While the rollout for faculty and staff is anticipated to begin this summer, students on campus began using their new e-mail system in December. The student e-mail system, called BeachMail, is a Microsoft cloud-based solution, whereas the faculty and staff e-mail system will be hosted on campus.

According to Foster, the students’ e-mail system upgrade was addressed first because it was a somewhat less complex project than the faculty/staff e-mail upgrade.

“We gained experience by implementing the students’ system first,” said Foster, “and by having already implemented it, we are able to use that to our advantage for the faculty and staff project. We’re in the final phases with the students.” Starting June 1, students’ old e-mail accounts will be retired.

The student e-mail evaluation period narrowed the field of vendors down to two – Google and Microsoft. The vendors met with a campus committee comprised of members from across the campus, followed by a presentation to which faculty, staff and students were invited. Follow-up surveys and evaluations were conducted by a committee which then went through a list of approximately 100 requirements it had developed.

The team performed a four-month product evaluation. “We wanted to make sure we were very thorough,” said Cleaveland, “but from the time we selected the product to the time we went live with it was about seven months, so it was pretty quick.

“We divided the criteria into two major buckets,” she added. “One was usability – whether it was friendly to the end user and how it behaved – and both systems scored very similarly in that category. However, Microsoft really won out on the second category – administration, security and accessibility.”

“We had quite a few students evaluate both products. They were all very pro Gmail going in and thought it would be a slam dunk,” said Foster, “but by the end of the process, they endorsed Microsoft. It was a big surprise.” But in the end, the process facilitated the committee’s evaluation of the products based on features and services.

That helped quite a bit in making the selection of Exchange 2010 for faculty and staff go much faster. Having everybody on the same platform will be easier to support, more cost-effective, enable improved communication, and provide improved functionality.

“When we implemented the student e-mail solution, we went to the cloud,” said Foster, referring to the data storage off-site server. “Faculty and staff e-mail will be hosted here on campus. It’s very similar to what the students are using, but we are going to be able to manage it on premises.”

Other CSU campuses have already outsourced student e-mail to Google or Microsoft; however, outsourcing faculty and staff e-mail is cost prohibitive at this time.

“We looked at doing it with Microsoft, but it’s not yet affordable,” said Foster. “If it does become affordable in the future we could easily migrate from our on-premises Exchange system to the cloud very seamlessly to the end-user. So that’s our plan; when a cloud solution is affordable and ready with security in place and can provide all the things that we would have to do legally and officially with e-mail, then we can look into moving there.”

The new faculty and staff e-mail system is scheduled to begin its rollout to users this summer, but the ITS staff is finalizing a more precise timeline when the migration and rollouts are going to occur. Since everyone can’t be converted overnight, a phased approach will be used. In each phase, every user’s current e-mail and contacts will automatically be migrated to the new e-mail system.

“We have a dedicated communication track which includes notifying users of their rollover date and then there will be some steps they will need to take in preparation for it,” said Foster. “There will be training available as well as online resources to familiarize individuals with it. You won’t be required to go to training, but we would highly recommend that people attend training if at all possible.”

Foster recommends users clean up their contact lists and e-mail boxes so that they are not so large, which will help the migration go faster and smoother.

“This is a project that is very near and dear to everyone’s heart, and we want to make sure it’s successful,” she added. “We understand that a lot of people have a lot of emotion around their e-mail, and the executive leadership on the campus feels very strongly that this is a positive step in getting everybody on one system, especially from an efficiency standpoint.”