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Print Editions Thursday September 28th, 2023

The Brown e-mail accounts of every undergraduate will be switched from Microsoft Exchange to Gmail by the end of September, a move that will provide students increased storage space and access to several Google applications.

Computing and Information Services will begin migrating accounts this week and complete the project, known as Gmail@Brown, by Sept. 25, according to the office's Web site. To avoid overloading CIS and disrupting Internet service on campus, the accounts will not be changed all at once.

The change in e-mail providers will not alter students' e-mail addresses. Instead of accessing their e-mail through Microsoft Outlook Web Access, the e-mail service that works with Exchange, they will use Gmail.

The change comes almost a year after CIS began searching for options to expand student inboxes, and it is intended to save the University millions of dollars, according to Donald Tom, IT director for support services.

"When we looked at upgrading our existing e-mail infrastructure … the cost of that was several million dollars," said Tom, who added that the only cost of switching to Gmail was the labor required by CIS but declined to give exact figures.

The new accounts will give students nearly 150 times more storage space in their e-mail inboxes. While Exchange provided 50 megabytes of capacity, the Gmail accounts offer more than 7.3 gigabytes, said CIS Computer Education Specialist Stephanie Obodda.
Students will also be able to use additional services, such as Gchat — an instant messaging service — and Google Calendar. Other applications, such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets, will enable students to save documents online, rather than on hard drives or thumb drives, making documents available on any computer with an internet connection.

For group projects, students will be able to make live changes to online documents that their partners can see immediately.

John Spadaro, CIS director of technical architecture and outreach, said the University had considered switching to Microsoft Live for its larger storage space and applications that he found "in some ways more interesting" than Google's, but opted for Gmail because most students were already familiar with it.

"We realize that roughly 60 percent of our student population is already using Gmail," said Spadaro said. "We felt that for us to change against the direction in which the students had already gone didn't entirely make sense."

One of CIS's major concerns with outsourcing student accounts to a corporation was the safety of its user content, according to Spadaro. The servers holding the Exchange accounts' e-mails had been in the CIS's data center, but with the switch to Gmail, e-mails will be stored on Google's servers.

"While there are definitely concerns, they have been addressed through the contract," Spadaro said. "We wouldn't have moved forward with this if we had any concerns about the privacy of any user data."

 But CIS is still moving forward cautiously, and isn't ready to switch medical and graduate student, faculty and staff accounts to Gmail, yet.

According to Tom, CIS wants to make sure that the Google will fully protect certain information that is more likely to be in staff and faculty e-mails than student e-mails, such as academic records and research.

CIS will also consider outsourcing non-undergraduate accounts to Microsoft, where the accounts would run through Microsoft Live, according to Chris Grossi '92, Manager of Software Distribution and Desktop Support Field Services.

CIS launched a beta, or trial version, of Gmail@Brown in June and invited 500 students to use it during the summer. More than 300 did, according to Christine Brown, Gmail@Brown project manager.

"The feedback, really, has been all positive," Brown said.

One of the beta testers, Rahul Banerjee '10, said he liked the format of Gmail better than that of Outlook Web Access, noting that the former works better on his Macintosh computer.

"Gmail works almost on any browser or any computer," Banerjee said.

He said he doesn't envision any serious problems in the campus-wide transition to Gmail. The only glitch he ran into was that his Gmail@Brown account looked too much like the Gmail account he already had, so he gave his accounts different color schemes to tell them apart.

"I'm really looking forward to this," Banerjee said. "A lot of us have been talking about hopefully having Gmail for years, and it's finally happening."



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