in the Cloud
local college follows the trend and signs up for Gmail, accepting
all the benefits and potential troubles that come with it
Monday, the more than 7,000 students at the College of Saint
Rose were able to log in to their new Gmail-powered student
email accounts for the first time. Flyers emblazoned with
Google’s primary-color scheme were hung around campus advertising
the switch from Microsoft Outlook to Google Apps Education
Edition for managing student e-mail, contacts, calendars and
file hosting and sharing.
The switch, which came after repeated solicitations of feedback
and multiple student information sessions, is one that more
and more colleges are making. University of Notre Dame, Northwestern
University, University of Virginia, University of Florida,
George Washington University and the two-year SUNY Orange
are among the growing list that are signing up for the one-stop
communication service that Google offers. Students keep their
current email addresses, but get a greatly increased storage
capacity, 24/7 technical support, and the user-friendly Gmail
interface, complete with customized themes, message labeling,
chat, and pop3 e-mail fetching.
Because Google dips into so many different services, it allows
for easy synchronization. People can check their e-mail, chat
with a friend, print out directions to their business meeting,
double-check the meeting time on their calendar, pull their
PowerPoint presentation, even upload a video of the meeting
to send to coworkers who couldn’t attend—all using Google
The best part is that Google Apps Education Edition is free
and ad-free. According to Saint Rose Information Technology
Services director, John Ellis, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly
how much the college spends annually on providing student
e-mail through Microsoft because it is bundled with other
services, but he says that Saint Rose has paid a licensing
fee of $5 per student or approximately $35,000 total each
year to Microsoft.
At a time when local universities are experiencing tuition
hikes, shrinking endowments and massive staff layoffs, outsourcing
student e-mail to Google can help to balance a stretched budget,
particularly at schools with a larger student enrollment.
While many of the students at Saint Rose were in favor of
the switch, the main concerns involved privacy and security.
Along with the convenience of Google, there also comes the
reality that someone else is responsible for the primary means
of communication between students, faculty and administrators.
The practice of working and storing information online is
called “cloud computing,” and it has many benefits. For businesses,
there’s no need to invest in a dedicated server or IT staff.
It frees up valuable hard drive space, and files can be accessed
from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Anybody who
uses a Web site where data is stored only online—Backpack,
Flickr, Salesforce—is on the cloud. While some businesses,
and people, make the conscious decision to utilize cloud computing,
many people don’t even realize they’re on the cloud until
something goes wrong and they lose valuable information or
services. It could be the company that runs your file- hosting
Web site going out of business or suffering a worldwide outage.
That happened to Gmail earlier this year when, in February,
consumer and business accounts experienced a loss of e-mail
service. Not only were people unable to send and receive e-mails,
but they could not access the e-mails they had already received,
including valuable attachments, contacts and other information.
Although the outage only lasted for 2.5 hours, Gmail users
worldwide panicked, and Google blog posts updating on the
outage were linked, tweeted and pinged across the Internet.
Google resolved the situation relatively quickly, but issued
a mea culpa to all those who were displaced due to the loss
of their vital Gmail accounts.
know how important Gmail is to you,” wrote Acacio Cruz, Gmail
reliability manager, in a blog post, “and how much people
rely on the service.”
There is also the issue of privacy. According to their terms
of service, while Google claims no ownership or control over
anything you send, post, or receive using Google services,
it does reserve the right to prescreen, flag, filter, refuse,
modify, or move any content that may be inappropriate. It
may also disclose your account information and any content
if required to do so by law.
Your data may also be exposed to those outside of Google.
According to a recent article in the International Business
Times, while Gmail does use a secure connection to encrypt
login information, the default setting for its e-mail service
uses an unencrypted http connection. Users can opt to always
use a secure https connection, but many Gmail users don’t
realize that their content may be at risk. In March of this
year, a bug in the Google Docs service resulted in some documents
being shared without the users’ knowledge.
Whether or not you decide to trust Google ultimately will
depend on how much you value your content, how secure you
want it to be, and how willing you are to live without the
services that Google provides. Earlier this month, a letter
signed by 38 experts in the fields of computer science, privacy
law and information security was sent to the CEO of Google
demanding better privacy and security for users of Google
cloud-computing services. This comes after the Electronic
Privacy Information Center filed an official complaint with
the Federal Trade Commission in March asking them to investigate
the security of Google services after the Google Docs gaffe.
That’s something to think about before hitting “send.”