Every student at UC Santa Cruz will have a new email account come Feb. 22. The switch marks the beginning of a UC-wide transition to Gmail.
Less than 10 years ago, campus email was handled in-house with the school’s own servers and IT infrastructure, which was called CruzMail. But as the campus population expanded, the home-grown system groaned underneath the added e-traffic.
Lisa Bono, communications manager at Information Technology Services, said that the pathway to using Google as a vendor has been long and complex one.
“A few years ago, we needed $1 million for the handling of CruzMail. We did do a lot of upgrades to keep up [with the increasing traffic], but really, it was very clogged,” Bono said. “Then a few years ago, Davis moved its students to Gmail. That move of some 18,000 accounts really relieved their servers … CruzMail was just getting old. We couldn’t keep up with the new technology.”
To relieve their traffic, the school created a Gmail account and called it SlugMail, which all student accounts were migrated onto. Faculty and staff remained on the CruzMail server.
“Last year, we surveyed the faculty and staff and they voted to switch to Gmail,” Bono said. “There was no way [CruzMail] could compete with all the capabilities Gmail has.”
Faculty and staff migrated onto a new UCSC Gmail domain last November.
“Those were two separate domains [for students and faculty/staff] … it caused a lot of buildup,” Bono said. “Having one domain is more reliable … just better infrastructure all around, and Google prefers [it].”
Rather than switching the smaller population of faculty and staff to the SlugMail domain, ITS decided to switch students onto the UCSC Gmail domain.
“Faculty did not want to jump onto the student email system,” Bono said. “We talked about that … we emailed the professors and asked them what they thought we should do. Overall, leadership wanted to move the students rather than the faculty and staff. It would have confused a lot of staff.”
Because SlugMail is a Gmail account, switching students to the UCSC Google domain is expected to be much simpler than the earlier switch from CruzMail (in-house) to SlugMail (Google).
Google offers their Gmail service to the school, with support, free of charge and advertisements. Bono spoke about the alternative rewards Google stands to gain from UCSC’s use of Gmail.
“What they get out of it is they get you for life,” Bono said. “I think they really want us to be loyal Gmail users. And the more people, the better for them.”
As per negotiations between UC Office of the President and Google, a contract signed in June of last year commits the entire UC system to an eventual transition to Gmail.
Google has the final rights to this service, but they do not own the data, and usernames and passwords of UCSC accounts are encrypted.
“Overall, its a win-win … Gmail is more efficient, more modern, more cost-effective,” Bono said. “We’re giving up some control. Everything has to follow their policy. But how likely is an email outage beyond one or two hours? That would be a global problem.”
With the free service, the multi-million dollar funding model once devoted to email infrastructure across the university is no longer needed.
“It does help us out financially,” Bono said. “Those funds can be allocated elsewhere and more efficiently.”
All positions at ITS are being re-evaluated. Certain staff members may not be replaced when they leave.
“We still have an email infrastructure crew, but they’re more in the networking field … and we still manage email traffic through the servers, but we don’t house the software,” Bono said.
UCSC is the first UC to switch its faculty and staff to Gmail, and will be the second to switch its students, after Davis.
Come Feb. 22, students will need to log into the Gmail domain. As this is a new account, previous mail stored in SlugMail will not be there.
“We have a tool to migrate it which we will link [students] to,” Bono said. “It’s a super easy tool that works very quickly. Mobile devices will also need to be updated.”