College transitions from BlitzMail
By Matt Mc Nierney
Published on Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The College has begun the transition process from the current BlitzMail system to Microsoft’s Office 365 program suite, which is expected to be fully integrated into the College by the end of 2011, according to Susan Zaslaw, associate director of administrative computing and project manager for the transition from BlitzMail. The new e-mail system will streamline website creation for campus organizations, standardize user names and allow alumni to retain their undergraduate e-mail addresses, according to Zaslaw.
Office 365 is a suite of applications that includes three main programs — Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Lync — according to Zaslaw. Microsoft Exchange provides e-mail and calendar programs, while Microsoft SharePoint provides collaboration tools for document sharing, meetings management and easy creation of wikis and blogs. The third program, Microsoft Lync, enables both instant messaging and video conferencing. All of these services will be available for student use once the transition is completed, Zaslaw said.
The new system will offer much more than an updated e-mail system, according to Galen Pospisil ’13, a member of the student advisory group that is tasked with informing the committee about how students use BlitzMail. Group members also provide the committee with feedback on Office 365, according to Pospisil.
“It’s a big change — it’ll work a little bit like BlitzMail, but it’s definitely not BlitzMail,” he said. “It lets us do things that we would never be able to do with BlitzMail.”
Along with the e-mail transition project — known as Blitz-2-Blitz — comes a major overhaul of the College’s identity management system, which currently handles the user names and passwords that allow students to access e-mail services as well as Blackboard and Banner Student, according to Joseph Doucet, director of administrative computing and the Identity Management System project manager.
“As our systems evolve and get more complicated, we need to be more careful about how we provision those systems and we need to do so in a more automated fashion, and this will help us do that,” Doucet said.
The College has licensed Oracle’s Identity Manager which will eventually standardize the user names and passwords of users across the network, according to Doucet. Instead of having to use different combinations of spaces, periods and underscores to create the user name for different services on Dartmouth’s network, users will have a master user name, which will most likely be students’ Dartmouth ID number, Doucet said.
“People have been pretty positive about [using their ID number] for the primary reason that people just don’t want to have another identifier to have to remember,” he said.
The new identity management solution will eventually allow alumni to retain the same e-mail address they had while at Dartmouth, one of the primary motivating factors behind the switch, according to Doucet.
BlitzMail nicknames will be replaced by aliases, allowing students to create a limited number of alternate e-mail addresses linked to their main e-mail address, according to Zaslaw. Main e-mail addresses will consist of students’ full names and class years, she said.
The committee is working to ensure that other popular features of the old BlitzMail system are not lost, Zaslaw said. Discussions are underway to find a replacement for BlitzMail Bulletins, according to Zaslaw. RSS feeds created through Microsoft Sharepoint have been considered as a potential solution, according to Zaslaw.
E-mails will no longer be received instantly because they must travel through off-campus servers, but the e-mail delivery will not be appreciably longer, Zaslaw said.
“What we’ve seen so far is that it’s not significant,” she said. “It’s not like five minutes, it’s a few seconds.”
The rollout of both Office 365 and Oracle’s Identity Manager will occur in stages, according to Zaslaw and Doucet. Pilot programs for volunteers will begin late this spring, and the Class of 2013 may become the first class to actually use the system when on campus this summer, Zaslaw said.
The next steps in the testing process will include stress-testing the system to ensure that it can handle full user capacity, as well as planning the eventual rollout of the new technology, she said.
The transition committee has already completed extensive testing on the incoming online e-mail client, known as Microsoft Exchange, to ensure that the College’s calendar and e-mail functions will work on Office 365 as well as on different operating systems and internet browsers, Zaslaw said.
The committee aims to ensure that the transition is not disruptive to the College, she said. While the actual transfer of data to the new servers will only take about two hours and can be done at night, users of the BlitzMail client will need to choose and learn how to use a new client, such as Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Microsoft Outlook or the web-based Microsoft Exchange. Education programs will be provided to students, faculty and staff members once the system has been implemented next fall, according to Zaslaw.
Students in the advisory group expressed concerns about the new technology. Some students are worried about the choice of Office 365 as a very new and largely untested product, according to group-member Jeremy Huckins GR ’13.
Others questioned whether Microsoft is successfully tailoring the new system to fit Dartmouth’s specific needs, Pospisil said.
“I’m not really sure how much we’re forcing Microsoft to work for us,” he said. “We’re the customer, we should be setting the ground rules. We’re not just buying a piece of software off the shelf.”