Should We Go Google? Google Apps Experience

Michael Pickett, CIO at Brown convened the session..

The session was not a presentation, but a discussion.

Brown was one of the first institutions to implement Google Apps for faculty, staff, and students.

Question: Why consider Google Apps? (versus Microsoft Live, etc.).

Discussion: One school is using Exchange but is thinking about switching.  Customization capabilities depth and breadth seems to deliver more than Microsoft’s product.  Google has been pushing toward the cloud for much longer.  Rick Matthews CIO at Wake Forest: this is what they asked for.  Now they’re hearing this from faculty who want to use the collaborative features with the tools.  Microsoft’s solution seems focused on having desktop software, Google seems more in the cloud.  Microsoft seems to be about a year behind Google.  For Brown, there are business continuity reasons for Google (MS didn’t have redundant data centers a year ago, but they do now).  Some things in Google Apps aren’t robust enough yet. 18,000 accounts moved over to Google.  Does everyone like it?  No.  And it slows down at times.

Question: How has it gone for schools who switched?

Discussion: It’s terrific.  We’re considering Faculty & Staff and are interested to hear more.  Brown: the big stepping stone for Fac/Staff had to do with the calendar and threaded conversations.  Small changes in the interface from Outlook to the web browser, but a big deal for admins.  Miserable for two weeks, and then you’ll be fine.  Lessons learned at Brown: a problem to solve: need to move off of Exchange or upgrade.  Did a full cost analysis.  Looking for: significantly more quota (over 2GB).  Standards-based implementation.  Looking for something that would work with POP, IMAP, etc.  Calendar being caldav compliant is good.  Secure access from anywhere is also a benefit.  Saving money: BOT said to find every way to save money and not layoff people.  $700K-$1M to upgrade.  But it’s not a slam dunk or a sure thing that this is a smart thing to do.  There’s so much freedom that you can get into trouble.  Multiple accounts cause havoc on his phone sometimes, but Safari looks good.  Chrome is perfect.  A discussion of quirky interfaces followed.

Question: Have administrative users switched over from Outlook as a client to using the web interface.

Discussion: it’s a real mixed bag.  They push the native interface for a week.

Question: Recovery, archiving, restoration.

Discussion: Native Google – no restoration short of a legal requirement.  Postini for discovery.  Archiving is not in place today, but they (Brown) will soon.

Question: Policy issues for faculty/staff

Discussion: Don’t do this without support from President / Provost.  There’s a lot of bad information out there.  There are compromises, though.  Most of the questions were based on bad information.  Concerns about scanning e-mail and privacy.  Esoteric questions: ITAR export restrictions.  Health information doesn’t belong in GMail.

Question: How do you handle new features coming unnanounced?

Discussion: We are told to embrace change.  Google gives you a ton of things out of the box.  If you have to wrestle with turning them on and off, it will be tough.  We went as open as we could be with new features.  Labs.  Cool, but be careful.  Set expectations correctly.  It depends on your culture at your campus.  These can be dangerous things, but they put power in the hands of the people on campus.  Departments clamored for access.  IT just got out of the way.  Not a traditional roll out for most people.  Admins were different.

Question: Were legacy messages converted?

Discussion: Yes. With an outside vendor, though most was done internally.  Exchange access was turned off and about 1,000 people who had moved on who hadn’t been in for a while that hadn’t converted.  They had to agree to Brown’s user policies.  These 1,000 were moved, but access was cut off until they agreed to the policies.

Question: Speed/performance?

Discussion: Some things appear to be slow, some are faster.  It varies.  Some things are puzzling within our network configuration.  Wireless vendor product making a difference for performance compared to wired.  Search is so much better in Google.

Questions; Legal Issues?

Discussion: Legal counsel was involved, as was legal counsel from Rhode Island School of Design.  No show stoppers.  Everything has risk.  Lesson learned: You need to talk to people about what’s good and bad. What won’t be as good.  Can you live with it?  Legal Counsel was in the 1st round, right after the president.

Question: accessibility for users with disabilities. Supposedly high on Google’s priority list.

Discussion: No pushback.

Question: How are accounts handled as students become alumni?

Discussion: We have distinct e-mail addresses that aren’t ever reused.

Question: What is the exit strategy.

Discussion: You can pop them out and delete messages.  It’s doable.  The contract says that you own your data.

Question: Expunging data?

Discussion: The won’t keep your data, but the contract is changing.

Question: Campus Agreement: we pay for office suite?  Did you save any money on licensing or staffing?

Discussion: No staff were laid off.  They were repurposed.  Google Apps is not a replacement for MS Office.

Question: Increased bandwidth costs?

Discussion: Negligible.  Even with attachments moving from 10MB to 20 MB.

Question: Google Sites?  Policing them?

Discussion: We don’t know enough to do that.  But we’re worried.

Question: We have no control over how people share, and we can’t take things away from them when they no longer work for us.

Discussion: When you leave the University, you account terminates.  Sharing documents is a real one.  There are worries, but they focus on communication.  What if faculty put grades in GDocs and shared them with TA’s?  No legal issue there, but don’t be stupid and make it public.

Question: Yale: When is a good time to roll out?

Discussion: Students at beginning of fall term last year.  Fac/Staff in February.  Piloted departments over 2 months, big push in May.  Most over by early June.  New features come out once a week.  Intel, Motorola, etc. use it.

Question: Blackberry Enterprise Server?

Discussion: Ditched it.  Calendar nowhere near as functional.  5 people went back.  Droids work well too.

Questions: Data storage outside the US?

Discussion: Google has a white paper.  Data not stored in unfriendly countries.  Messages in Google are obfuscated over 5 servers in different data centers.  That makes it hard to reassemble the letter.  But there is redundancy.

Question: compromised accounts – how do you know what’s happened?

Discussion: they’ve helped confirm last login.  What’s been accessed?

Question: Were contacts migrated?

Discussion: yes, for those saved on the server.

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