UK sees 'cloud' as cheaper email alternative

After realizing they could no longer compete with major email providers, the University of Kentucky is migrating campus email to "the cloud."

Now, more than 29,000 email accounts must be migrated to an off-site server as UK students — and maybe employees in the future — make the choice between Google Apps or Microsoft Live as their new email provider.

Cost is at the bottom line for UK making the switch.

"The thing is, email is more of a commodity now than it used to be," said Herman Collins, a project manager in information technology at UK. "Students already have email accounts set up when they get here, and it costs us quite a bit to provide our own email service here on campus for all the students."

More and more, companies have been opting to transition their email accounts to an off-site server. For instance, the Herald-Leader's corporate parent, The McClatchy Company, announced to its employees that it would transition staff emails to Google Apps this year.

Michael Hardy, vice president for managed solutions at Software Information Systems, a Lexington IT company, said there are a lot of reasons companies have been deciding to migrate to an off-site server, and that everybody's situation is unique. But Hardy, who has previously worked with UK on IT projects but not with the current email migration, said migrating to the "cloud" saves companies money.

"There's a real cost savings there," he said. "There's a lot of costs that go into supporting servers, the network to support them, applications, maintenance and a support staff, which keeps servers up and functioning. ... So all of that adds up."

Collins said providers like Google offer bigger mailboxes and services that UK can't compete with when supporting an on-site server for campus email. Often the major provider offers its services for free to get students interested in its company after graduation.

"So what we're looking at is an upgrade for the students, particularly because of the mailbox size," Collins said.

The migration begins when students are prompted via email to initiate the process by choosing between Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Live@edu. Students receive the emails randomly. Collins said Google has been the favored choice so far.

The first phase of the email migration project, which launched in January, is scheduled to be completed by the time classes resume in August, said Ashley Tabb, communications director for UK's IT department.

Students will not have to worry about their email addresses being altered. Once their accounts are migrated, they will log in to a UK-based Gmail account, but their addresses will stay the same.

Students may also be worried about losing important messages or contacts. Collins said that, so far, there have been no major issues.

"We've been very careful about our testing and there are some warnings we have in the notes we send to students," he said. "If they have a very large piece of mail, larger than 25 megabytes or so, then it won't fit. That would have to be handled separately, ... downloaded or something."

UK's IT Web site informs students of whom the email migration affects. Employees are not included in migration, although Collins and Tabb said this is a possibility in the future.

Students in the colleges of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, health sciences, nursing and public health "will continue to receive and use Exchange email due to health information privacy regulation, but will be eligible to use Google or Microsoft cloud email for personal use," according to the Web site

Students are also able to compare the Google and Microsoft services, to see which one they find more compatible, on the IT Web site. Google's capabilities can migrate the inbox, calendar and contacts, but Microsoft will migrate only the inbox.

Students who don't initiate the process themselves will automatically be migrated to the Google service by default.

"It's not voluntary in the sense that you can opt out of it," Collins said. "Everyone's going to get migrated. Essentially, we're providing students with more options for less money."