UCD moves student email to Google Apps in four-year deal

3 Oct 2011

Brian Morrissey, head of web services at UCD IT services, with students on the UCD campus

UCD is moving its email and calendaring for almost 22,000 students to Google Apps as part of a four-year contract that’s expected to save the university close to €250,000.

The new service replaces the university’s student email service, which had previously been based on Sun hardware. The email addresses haven’t changed as a result of the handover, retaining the same firstname.lastname@ucdconnect.ie format.

UCD first decided to switch email providers at the start of the year. To help the decision-making process, the university set up a technical review group, with substantial input from a customer group comprising students and staff. “I was very keen that the decision be made by them rather than the decision being influenced by the IT services department,” said Brian Morrissey, head of web services at UCD’s IT services team.

The migration began last May after exams ended. Baker Security & Networks, a Google Enterprise partner, provided assistance in reviewing UCD’s project approach and advising on various aspects of the migration.

Morrissey said Google’s mail environment provides more storage – 25GB per student compared to 7GB, without the cost overhead of having to run the additional equipment. Student timetables are now integrated with their Google calendars, providing an instant view of their schedules.

“They can be checking their calendars on the 46A on the way in on their iPhone so they know what lectures they have on. They have a composite view, so it also shows where they might be going for lunch and also sports,” said Morrissey. The ability for students to access the service from a smartphone was one of the key elements in moving to a cloud-based service, he added.

Students will access the service through the university’s portal, UCDConnect, that has been running for nine years. The site provides single sign-on to all services, including Gmail, Calendars or Docs, which are accessible via icons. UCDConnect also provides library access and a range of other student services.

The anticipated savings on the project will come from no longer having to operate and maintain servers and provide disaster recovery. In addition, UCD won’t have to bear the cost of extra storage capacity that would be on a par with what Gmail offers, Morrissey said.

Google Docs is also set to become an important component of the service, Morrissey confirmed. “It’s so easy to create documents and share them, particularly in small group collaboration. For now, people are looking at it as a nice add-on but it will become more important over time. Students could share with lecturers, or it could suit students in third and fourth year who work in small groups on projects and who do have to collaborate together,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.

‘Get ’em young’ appears to be the motto at Google, which is cannily targeting the student market so that in years to come, large swathes of the workforce will be familiar with its productivity tools. UCD is the latest educational institution to sign up with Google; Trinity College Dublin moved to Gmail in 2007, and earlier this month DCU announced a deal to provide Chromebooks to first-year students taking certain subjects.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic