Google’s popular e-mail client available for use

The University sent out the first invitations Wednesday, offering the new service.

by Jerimiah Oetting

After nearly a year of negotiating and testing, the University of Minnesota will begin offering GoogleâÄôs suite of applications to undergraduates throughout the next month. GoogleâÄôs e-mail service, Gmail, will be offered in addition to the UniversityâÄôs local e-mail service, GopherMail. The University sent out the first of its invitations Wednesday, offering the new service to first-year students in the Carlson School of Management, project manager Dan Wagner said. âÄúWeâÄôll start sending invitations to others in the freshman class probably early next week,âÄù he said. âÄúAfter that weâÄôll go sophomore, junior [and] senior.âÄù Gmail will not be offered to faculty and staff yet, Wagner said âÄúFaculty may have research data and that kind of thing more so than students,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre doing due diligence to reassure faculty and staff that data will be secure.âÄù University Health Privacy Officer Ross Janssen said the University is negotiating a business associate agreement with Google to ensure protection of health and medical information. âÄú[Google] wonâÄôt go to any faculty, staff or student that have access to health information until weâÄôve got all of the assurances we need,âÄù he said. Bernard Gulachek, senior director of strategy management for the Office of Information Technology, said offering GoogleâÄôs services came in response to popular demand. âÄúApproximately 18 percent of our faculty and staff and 12 percent of our students are forwarding existing e-mail addresses off campus,âÄù he said. âÄúThe majority of those forwards are going to the Google space.âÄù In addition to providing e-mail service, Google will also provide the applications in its Google Apps Education Edition suite. âÄúWe know this is a popular suite of tools,âÄù Gulachek said. For Gulachek, the tools increase the ability for University students and faculty to collaborate, a key motive behind the UniversityâÄôs implementation of GoogleâÄôs infrastructure. The tools include Google Docs, which allows users to work together on word processing, spreadsheets and slideshow presentations within the Google space, according to the Google Apps Education Edition Web site. While a large number of students and faculty already use Google for personal e-mail, Gulachek said there are important differences in the UniversityâÄôs negotiated terms and conditions. Gulachek said under the terms and conditions of a personal Gmail account, the information put into the Google space is the property of Google. âÄúThat is not the case with the UniversityâÄôs terms of agreement,âÄù he said. If potentially sensitive information is forwarded from GopherMail to a personal Gmail account, then it becomes the property of Google. âÄúWithout the protection of terms and conditions, then that could potentially represent a risk to this institution,âÄù Gulachek said. However, Gulachek said he believes that with the contract negotiated by the University, information is safer even if itâÄôs not stored locally. âÄúGoogle services are equal to or superior to the architecture and technology that we use today,âÄù he said. The outsourcing of e-mail follows a recent trend among colleges across the nation. St. PaulâÄôs Hamline University switched to GoogleâÄôs infrastructure at the beginning of the academic year. âÄúThe students were very much in favor,âÄù said Harry Pontiff, director of special projects and information security at Hamline. âÄúTheir attitudes were more like âÄòWhat took you so long?âÄô âÄù Pontiff said GoogleâÄôs servers are maintained by a team of technicians, making them more reliable. With the applications Google offers as part of its Google Apps Education Edition suite, there may be room to cut costs by ending services currently supported by the University. âÄúWe have not decided yet that we are going to stop running services,âÄù Gulachek said. He cited the UniversityâÄôs calendar system as possibly being replaced by GoogleâÄôs in the future. âÄúThis fall is really a testing ground for us,âÄù he said.