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Faculty & Staff E-mail: Novell Groupwise to Office 365

Why did Calvin switch from Novell Groupwise to Office 365?

Background & Decision

The future of email had been under consideration for some time. In 2011 CIT made a commitment to review the existing solution (Novell GroupWise) and make a decision on direction in 2013. CIT always stives to properly evaluate and lead the way forward for better methods of enabling communication across campus and among the Calvin community. 

This is not just a tactical move, but a bigger picture, long term strategic move as well. We feel that the product we chose offers advantages and opportunities providing a basic email and calendaring solution. This is not only an email project, but a catalyst for other features and better integration with products and business services the college is already using. This change has lead the way toward more developed mobile and cloud services opportunities at Calvin.

CIT is committed to nine core values in the work we do. These include an unwavering commitment to facilitating the mission of the college, maintaining a strong service orientation, being operationally and fiscally responsible with campus resources, acting as a trusted advisor on items related to technology, performing all our work with integrity, and using technology to contribute to a thriving college staff environment. 

To align with these values and address a recurring question of the future of email systems at Calvin, CIT decided to move from Novell GroupWise to Microsoft Office 365.

In the past several years, email systems have changed to be more highly integrated with new forms of communication and personal productivity tools including instant messaging, social media, file storage, and collaboration. Much of this change is part of a broader strategy occurring globally in IT to become more collaborative in technology, pooling resources and ideas on a large scale to provide the greatest efficiencies.  This is sometimes known in part as "cloud computing". Our goal in CIT is to understand and take advantage of these changes in technology, while at the same time respecting the culture and and community that makes Calvin unique, distinct, and which utilizes these IT systems each and every day.

External to Calvin, over fifty percent of colleges and universities nationally are either reviewing or modernizing their faculty and staff email technology in light of new options provided by "cloud computing" and "mobile technology".  That number increases with student email systems, where ninety percent of colleges have modernized their student email systems indicating that this transformation is not merely a passing phase in IT.  Many of Calvin's peer institutions including Dordt and Wheaton had already undertaken faculty and staff email upgrade projects with great success.

Moreover, CIT evaluated and identified certain risks inherent in not making a change.  The existing GroupWise email system had decreasing marketshare across higher education while at the same time Calvin's implementation of the email and file storage environment had become more costly and complex to run internally each year.  Add to this that an internal email system is a single point of failure prone to risk from electrical outages, water or flooding, mechanical failure, and individual staff expertise, and there was great incentive for Calvin to take advantage of the new opportunities available with "cloud computing" which address many of these risks.

We also recognized that our current email system was causing frustrating experiences due to problems with mail merge operations, bugs with the multi-user calendar feature, a lack of sufficient quota capacity, and an immature Mac email client.

Google vs. Microsoft

Of highest priority to us was continuing to provide the IT features the Calvin community currently relies on, including basic email, calendar, an email address directory, and ease of email access from all the devices you use including your desktop computer, your mobile device, and your home computer.  We also continue to strive for an easy-to-use, reliable, secure, "always on" IT infrastructure on your behalf.  Any candidates for a new communication system must meet these requirements.

CIT identified two major ecosystems, the email feature of Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, both market leaders. Google products are an entirely "cloud" experience, meaning that all e-mail is stored, or "hosted", via Google and not on Calvin's network infrastructure. Google's product offers limited support for deep integration with email clients (the "client" is the software application installed on your computer that allows you to interact with your email and calendar). Of these two front-runners, Microsoft is the most sensitive to issues related to data security, risk management, and integration with other IT systems. Data stored in Microsoft's cloud is on US soil and encrypted. The Microsoft Office 365 product supports cloud-based technology as well as necessary integration with email clients.  While they both have stylistic advantages and disadvantages, the college has already standardized many of its business and academic processes and tools on the Microsoft platform. 

Benefits of choosing Office 365

  • Calvin has current license agreements for other Microsoft desktop products including word processing, spreadsheet, and SharePoint, that favor a move to Office 365 and the primary mail client software Outlook. 
  • The Microsoft product integrates into other college deployed software and technology and has features such as collaboration software that CIT can consider deploying as a value plus proposition to this move to achieve our goals.
  • The mail client Outlook provides a similar experience to the current GroupWise software in place at Calvin for legacy purposes.  However other mail clients can be used.
  • There is a broad universe of support and expertise surrounding the MS Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc).  The Microsoft platform is mature from a support perspective.
  • The product meets or exceeds Calvin’s obligations from a legal and regulatory compliance perspective and also fits Calvin’s information security requirements.
  • Many of Calvin’s direct peers have moved to Office 365 with favorable outcomes.
  • The Microsoft product has integration features with Moodlerooms Learning Management System. This will be explored moving forward as an opportunity for more advanced collaboration.
  • Web interfaces and mobile devices will continue to be supported and may have broader support because of this change.