Stanford signed a contract with Google last month to have Google Apps — including Gmail — replace the communication services Zimbra offers to the campus.
The move came after an 18-month evaluation period, during which time Stanford, as part of an informal consortium of 10 research universities, scanned the marketplace for comprehensive collaboration solutions for combining email, calendar, instant messaging, document sharing and more, according to Executive Director of Information Technology Services (ITS) Matthew Ricks in an email to The Daily.
“This consortium issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) to multiple vendors, evaluated responses and entered into contract negotiations with selected vendors,” Ricks wrote.
The transition will begin during spring quarter, allowing undergraduate students to self-select the timing for the switch to Gmail. Google Docs will be enabled for the entire campus in the summer — including faculty, staff and graduate students. A full transition cannot happen until Google enters a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the University.
“In delivering Google Apps to Stanford, we’re responding to the desires of the majority of our community,” Ricks said. “Both Stanford’s Law School and Graduate School of Business have migrated to Google Apps successfully, as well as members of the Stanford Alumni Association.”
According to Ricks, the transition is necessary due to consistent feedback from the student body preferring Gmail to Zimbra. Ricks said that 95 percent of students who currently send their email outside Stanford forward their messages to Gmail.
Ricks also said that while Zimbra has been a viable platform for email and calendar for the past three years since implementation, cloud-based solutions such as Google Apps provide unique advantages and familiarity.
“Cloud-based solutions offer greater scalability, higher availability, greater storage quota, continual feature enhancements and greater business continuity capabilities,” Ricks said.
ASSU Vice-President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13 said he began speaking with ITS administrators last year about the possibilities for a transition to Google Apps because it was something that he said strongly aligned with his own sense of what students should have.
Macgregor-Dennis also said that the number of students already forwarding email to personal Gmail accounts demonstrated a need for such a transition.
“If the two email services were pretty much equivalent, you would expect very few students to transition, but the proportion of the Stanford student body that has transitioned to Google Apps means that most students see it as a superior service,” he said.
Owen O’Neal ’15 is one of the many students who currently forwards his Zimbra emails to a Gmail account. He said he agrees that Google has several advantages over Zimbra.
“I do really like Google products in general because the formatting of Gmail is pretty intuitive, and I can find anything really smoothly,” O’Neal said. “I found the old Zimbra program to be almost blocky and not as easy to navigate — and I’d always had Gmail, so I knew it better.”
According to Macgregor-Dennis, Stanford is also moving forward with the transition because of financial savings to the University due to ending investments with Zimbra.
According to ITS Computing Support Specialist Christopher Boshers at Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt made the full transition to Google Apps for Education in mid-2010 due in part to the superior service Google offered, but also due to expenses.
“We transitioned because the cost of storing emails is a great cost to us and because it’s really effective for all student emails to be stored on Google servers rather than ours,” Boshers said.
According to a case study released by Google Apps for Education, Vanderbilt saved approximately $750,000 due to the transition. Boshers confirmed that the student responses were overall positive.
While Ricks said that, “[Stanford’s] switch is more of a programmatic effort than a cost intensive effort,” Macgregor-Dennis said there will be a lower cost for maintaining an email server after the transition.
According to Boshers, Vanderbilt had no issue with privacy concerns during the transition.
“Google has sound security standards, but the lack of a BAA prevents a large portion of the University from adopting Gmail at this time,” Ricks said.
“For all Stanford Google Apps core services, privacy of Stanford’s data is contractually assured,” he added. “The operational access to Stanford at Google Apps is subject to the same policies, and Stanford employees are still the service administrators.”
Macgregor-Dennis said that, moving forward, there will still be some issues to work out with handling the transition.
“I think the main issue is, how do we communicate this to the student body, and how do we transition students in a way that’s minimally disruptive and maximally beneficial to their experience,” Macgregor-Dennis said.
Overall, Ricks said that Zimbra was still an accomplishment for ITS and that Google Apps is a move forward.
“Stanford IT Services is very proud of the email and calendaring services we provide to our user community,” he said.