Dal finalizes partnership with Microsoft

New “cloud” platform for email and calendar will be active next semester

Dalhousie University has finalized a contract with Microsoft that will see an updated look to the school’s email and calendar features. Dalhousie’s current server is hosted on campus, but will now be hosted on servers in the United States.

Dwight Fischer, the chief information officer at Dalhousie, has been raising the issue of updating Dal’s server and email platform since his arrival at the school four years ago.

“When I got here I learned very quickly that the current email system was inadequate,” said Fischer. “It lacked capacity, it lacked a modern interface.”

Upgrades will include:

  • 25GB of email storage, up from the current 500MB
  • Real-time document collaboration, allowing students to work on the same document at   the same time from different computers
  • New calendar system designed like Microsoft Outlook
  • More advanced document editing tools such as Word and Excel
  • Enhanced mobile support for phones and tablets

The cloud-based system, while new for Dal, is nothing new for universities across the globe. Dalhousie is simply catching up.

“It’s news for Dalhousie, but for higher (education) this is like old news. Universities and colleges have been taking this migration path for a couple of years now,” said Fischer.

The upgrade to the cloud system has been in the works for about two years now. Dalhousie had to first look over privacy laws in Nova Scotia that could have blocked the transition. That took the majority of the time. The school also had to decide between Google or Microsoft’s system. Both companies offered their product for free to the school and Dal ultimately went with Microsoft.

“Microsoft offered us more flexibility, more complex tools that are required for the university,” said Fischer. “At Microsoft, there’s someone at the other end of the phone. With Google, it’s the Google way or no way.”

The update won’t be in place until the fall 2013 semester, but some professors have already voiced concern about the switch.

The biggest concerns have been “selling out” to corporate America and violating users’ privacy by storing data off campus — and outside the country.

Fischer said there is also concern about contacts and previously received emails being deleted once the school switches servers. Those things won’t happen, he insisted, and email addresses will also not be changed.

“This is a bigger shift for employees because a lot of them are not adaptable to new technologies,” said Fischer.

Students agree that it’s time for a server update.

“It’s really poor,” says computer science student Nigel Smith of the current system.

“I intentionally don’t use it and forward everything to Gmail, because Gmail has such a better interface. This feels like those old ednet accounts we used in high school.”

“It seems really bland,” adds computer science student Chris Dingwell, as he logs into his Dal email for the first time in years. “There aren’t many functionalities.”

Fischer will be hosting a live webinar to answer questions about the new platform. The webinar will be on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at noon and can be accessed an hour before the event begins.