‘Fresh’ after a trans-Atlantic flight to Los Angeles, a two hour drive down the coast to San Diego, and a night somewhat disturbed by the clanking of goods trains, I had to read my copy of the Wall Street Journal more than once to be sure of what I was seeing. But yes, sure enough, a university really was rolling Cloud-based email and calendaring out to 50,000 accounts, and they were making claims about improvements to student retention; something of great concern to universities around the world at the moment as ever-more students drop out before completing courses.
As the paper reported,
Bruce Maas, CIO at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, recently switched the university’s 50,000 email and calendar accounts to an online provider, Zimbra, which is owned by Yahoo Inc. Previously, the university relied on a hodgepodge of old systems that required a team of full-time staffers to manage. The online software from Zimbra only requires two people to manage. ‘That’s lean and efficient,’ says Mr. Maas.
‘Cost was a major factor’ in the decision to switch, Mr. Maas says, as well as the ability to free up staffers for other projects. The new system also is more functional than the old one. For example, people can add events to one another’s calendars. That means, for one thing, that new students’ class schedules can be automatically loaded onto their accounts. That kind of help bolsters student retention, Mr. Maas says, as most of those who drop out do so in the first freshman semester, when they are overwhelmed with all the new responsibilities of living on their own."
Intrigued, I put down the coffee pot long enough to fire off a quick tweet from the breakfast table and by the time I reached my bedroom the offers of introductions had begun to arrive.
I spoke with Bruce Maas last night, and released the result as a podcast today.
I was interested to hear how the project is proceeding and how it fits within other IT deployments at UWM, including some plans to move beyond the university’s current virtualisation of servers toward far more virtualisation of desktop environments too.
The Zimbra project that initially sparked my interest, I learned, is actually running on a private cloud inside UWM, rather than on Yahoo!’s servers. The justification for this largely came down to the point, several years ago, at which the project was initiated. Maas suggested that technological advances in Cloud infrastructure since then mean there might be no barrier to a true Cloud-based replacement for subsequent services.
Have a listen, and see what you think. I’d also be keen to hear from any other universities that have gone the whole hog, and moved significant pieces of mission-critical IT to the public Cloud.