Cloud Email for Staff and Faculty

Phase
Plateau of Productivity
UMN Assessment
Leading
Time Frame
Less Than 2 Years
Last Updated on Sep 12, 2014

One of the basic, workhorse applications of the internet, standards-based e-mail was only popularized in higher education with the advent of graphical, easy-to-use email clients in the late 1980s.  At that time it was also becoming easier to run mail servers, and some university departments started out running their own email servers under their own departmental domains.

As email became widespread and more of a commodity application in the early 1990s, the U of M and other higher education institutions implemented central email services and brought universal email to all students, staff and faculty. This involved running a set of centrally maintained email servers. The late 1990s saw the introduction of a spate of commercial, "free," ad-supported, web-based email services ("webmail") that were not dependent on an e-mail client application running on a user's computer. Universities (including the U of M) wrote their own webmail services and also provided such configuration-free, web-based methods for their communities to access local email.

By the late 2000s, email was a commodity application and companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM offered higher education a "free" email solution: Universities could retain their domain names, and have all their email hosted by Google or Microsoft, with a good webmail interface. Many schools, including the University, accepted Google's offer to provide them with email ("Gmail") services.  Huge numbers of schools have since adopted this "cloud-based email" since. The term "cloud-based" comes from the notion that the service is provided from "out there" in the "internet-cloud" somewhere, and not locally at the institution.

Advantages

  • Free (or lower cost at any rate)
  • No e-mail client configuration
  • Use from anywhere
  • No local storage needs
  • No laptop-stolen problem
  • Automatic backups
  • Minimal management
  • Freedom from development/implementation

Challenges

  • Conflicted business model
  • E-mail is not physically in your possession
  • Constant connectivity required
  • Location of data unknown
  • Third party servers can be hacked
  • Location of backups unknown
  • Minimal responsiveness
  • Loss of local expertise