A few years ago we migrated student email hosting to Microsoft's Live.edu service. Microsoft offers this service for free, and offers considerably more storage than we can afford to provide. As with all technology related things, the time has come to upgrade the student email service. Microsoft would like to migrate all student email accounts to their O365 service. On September 30, 2013 they will shutdown the existing Live.edu service. Hence, we must make a change. The question arises as to what change to make?
A little history about the current setup:
Although our onsite Faculty/Staff email host and the students Live.edu host were supposed to operate as one organization, this promise has never been realized. Having the student email and the F/S email separate has caused some issues over the years.
- Microsoft likes to make changes to Live.edu and not tell us about it. Their change then breaks things for our students.
- Administering Live.edu has been a large effort for IT. Lots of custom scripting has been required.
- We have been unable to have free/busy calendar sharing with Live.edu, nor the ability to delegate employee mailbox responsibilities to students.
- When students move to employee status or employees take classes, they wind up with two email boxes. This has led to some confusion.
- Microsoft has limited us to sending to 25 students per email, and certain size limitations that we have no control over.
The pluses have been:
- Students get 15 GB of storage (although no one is using more than 2 GB currently)
- They were able to keep their @vikings address for life (very few graduates are still using their vikings address)
- They also received a fair amount of storage from Microsoft (over 10 GB at last count).
There are currently three options under consideration to replace the current setup. Other options have been discarded as impractical. As we look for a new solution, we of course what to try to learn from our past experiences, and make a choice that will hopefully eliminate most of the issues we have experienced in the past. Our goal is to make this transition as painless as possible for everyone, especially the students. Microsoft is not making this easy. We also want to be functioning as one mail organization again. Not two different ones loosely associated. So, since we want to be one organization again, that precludes us moving the students to Google. We have also examined and dismissed the thought of just not offering student email. So, that leaves:
Option 1: bring student email back into our onsite employee email host:
- We are one organization again.
- We have complete control of our services, servers, policies, etc.
- We know the tools to use to administer our onsite setup.
- This is a nice simple setup.
- We might need an additional server to handle the load (probably about $10,000-12,000)
- We will incur the costs to keep the data backed up. Too many options to price reliably.
- Amortization costs would be estimated at around $10,000 (for both student and employee servers, storage, and software)
- Disaster recover is our responsibility.
- We have to continue to deal with SPAM filtering and keeping ourselves off of email blocklists (disallows us to send email to various places).
- Student email storage would be limited to under 3 GB.
Option 2a: move student email to the new Office 365 and federate with onsite Employee email:
- We do not incur the costs of additional servers, storage, backups on site.
- Better disaster recovery.
- Calendar & Free Busy sharing, and delegation should work between the Employee email system and the student email system (presuming federation works as advertised).
These are only an advantage if the students utilize theses services fully (which to date most have not), Most of these services are available from a multitude of companies on the Internet.
- Students get 25 GB of email storage (I doubt they care based upon Live.edu statistics)
- Students get access to SharePoint for collaboration, and 7 GB of SkyDrive Pro storage (easily accessible from Windows desktops only)
- They get access to Microsoft Lync/Skype (ability to do large virtual conferences, presence info, and messaging).
- A fair amount of faith in Microsoft Federation is required for us to presume this will inter-operate with the employee email system as advertised by Microsoft.
- Administrative labor required to maintain the federated setup will be considerable.
- It must be a complex setup: Initial estimates for consultants to do the federation start at about $15,000 - $20,000 (they expect it will take 100 hours give or take).
- This will require additional servers to allow for high availability. Probably only $5,000 or so.
Option 2b: move all email to Office 365 (Employees included)
- We get out of the email hosting business, and save management and amortization costs.
- Employees & students are truly one organization again.
- No federation required.
- Administrative labor required to maintain would be significantly decreased.
- Microsoft handles all SPAM issues, and keeps us off blocklists
- Employees get 25 GB of storage for their mailboxes.
- Loss of control of Employee email service to an unresponsive outside organization.
- Reliance on outside tech support which is terrible.
- Troubleshooting cloud services (O365) requires more technical expertise than troubleshooting a local mail system.
- Advantages only available after employee mailboxes are moved to Office 365. This might not be a quick process.
- (possible) Microsoft might not continue to offer it for free.
- We would need to switch to Cisco for VoiceMail, or incur $20,000 in annual costs to have voicemail hosted in the cloud. Switching to Cisco would be costly up front ($25,000) for the software, plus implementation costs. This would also require re-training the campus.
My thoughts on all this are as follows:
Option 2a (federation) is my least preferred of all the options. Having two mail organizations has not been a good experience in the past, and I do not really expect it to be a good experience in the future. I recommend we bring the student email back onsite. This is the cleanest and cheapest route. Regardless of which direction we choose, Microsoft is going to make this a confusing transition for our current students. We are still exploring our options to make things less confusing, but the outlook is not good. Let me know your thoughts and/or questions on these options. We will need to make a decision very soon, so we can communicate our choice to students.