By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: What e-mail system did Westmont College use before IT started exploring cloud-based solutions?
RS: We were using Postfix. It is an open source–based product, but our e-mail scale had grown so dramatically over the years and the storage behind it was getting problematic. The entire design of our open source–based e-mail system had just begun to fall apart due to the increasing load that it had to deal with. We pushed the entire thing to Google, including the storage of the e-mail itself, to cater to a terabyte and a half of e-mail archives, all the spam filtering and the e-mail calendar, contacts, and so on. We pushed all those to the cloud. This process took a little over 30 days, and we achieved it for about one-tenth the cost of doing it in a more traditional way in-house.
SM: What was the driver behind choosing Google versus any other alternatives available? Did you consider any alternative cloud-based e-mail systems during the selection process? Can you share some insights on your vendor selection process?
RS: Yes, we actually did look at a number of different solutions, which also included the traditional ones such as Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes. We looked at Zimbra, Google, and a couple of others as well. We received a set of criteria that emerged from a meeting with the Westmont IT user community about what they wanted. We ended up choosing Google for one very basic reason. At the end of the day, what people wanted was e-mail that worked reliably and was fast. Users did not want a lot of features and different things, they just wanted e-mail they could count on, very basic e-mail. Google certainly met our criteria. During the 30-day demonstration and testing period, even though it was not a target for us, the entire Google Docs site emerged as a very helpful collaborative tool. It really began to show promise because many students were also on Google, and then there was this collaborative work between faculty members and students, between departments and administrative side that worked well. It showed real promise, so between those two, those are reasons we decided to move over.
SM: You mentioned the spam filtering capability earlier; is this the Postini service?
RS: That is correct.
SM: Postini is now part of Google. Is that part of your e-mail today, or do you have to pay extra for it?
RS: You do have to pay a little extra for that. We were using three spam-sorting appliances and almost had a full-time person dedicated to it. In spite of heroic efforts on our part to get a very accurate spam filtering service, the results that the end user experienced fell short of our efforts in IT. Since deploying Google e-mail and filtering services, the accuracy of our spam filtering has improved dramatically. We now spend less than three hours a week managing our spam filtering process versus almost 40 earlier!
SM: What about the archiving? Is all of your e-mail now archived on Google?
RS: That is correct.
SM: Could you share the thought process behind that decision and talk about your archiving requirements? Do you have any regulatory requirements in that context?
RS: Well, on the regulatory part, we are a private liberal arts college. That is different from perhaps a financial institution, a government institution, and other such entities. We wanted archiving from a security point of view. We looked at Google’s offerings, our end users understand it well, and the entire change management portion and training was seamless with their offering in our case. Also, the liability of the service is important. We needed to be able to go back and get an e-mail if required, those sorts of things. We also needed this capability in the archiving service, as well as in the Postini spam filter to pull out messages that were a false positive and were not sent through. This ultimately helps our end users, who can now use these tools effectively, and the answer we got from them was overwhelmingly yes for Google services.
SM: The domain that you use here at Westmont, westmont.edu, is this domain customized for you by Google mail?
RS: That’s correct! We have a Westmont branded login page that we manage ourselves. People go to that user name and password credential page, and then there is this entire connection to our system and people get their e-mail, calendar, contacts and Google Docs that way.
RS: It’s Westmont branded, so it’s got our colors and our name on it.
SM: What does the entire deployment cost you?
RS: We spend about $8,000 a year for 6,000 mailboxes.
SM: So it’s about $1.25 per user, excellent!
RS: But you also have to factor in that with Google e-mail and associated services, we were able to free up a terabyte and half of storage on our end. My mailbox capacity went from 200 Megs to seven Gigs, so you need to factor in the cost of that. Also, back then the two full time employees on my staff side who were dealing with all that back-end were freed up to do something else more useful for the IT and college infrastructure.