UT hires Google to update e-mail, expand features

Audrey White

The UT e-mail system will have a new look, more space and more features once the University finalizes a contract to outsource its e-mail platform to Google, likely during spring 2011.

The announcement came after months of research and planning to meet the demands of students who find Webmail unattractive and difficult to use, said Chief Information Officer Brad Englert. Of the 52,000 currently registered student Webmail accounts, more than 20,000 set up auto-forwarding to an outside platform such as Hotmail or Gmail. The new Google-based platform will look just like Google and have all the same functions, such as chat and calendar sharing, Englert said.

“From space and archiving to aesthetics, everything in Gmail is better than Webmail,” said Senate of College Councils President Chelsea Adler, who served on a student-led steering committee to choose a new e-mail platform. “So many people on campus are outsourcing to Gmail, including me, because things like chat and sharing calendars makes it more than just e-mail.”

While choosing a new e-mail host, the steering committee considered three possible clients. Members spoke with representatives from universities that use each of the servers and considered each choice’s features. Google led the way in every category, Englert said.

The new Google platform will cost $80,000 to $100,000 per year, the same amount as the current University-created platform, but the benefit per dollar will increase drastically, Englert said. The new platform will also allow alumni to set up a UT e-mail account and permit graduates to keep using their address in order to keep their e-mail affiliated with the UT brand, he said.

“Alumni are very interested in this,” he said. “I’m a 1984 graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and I’m going to be the first to sign up. There’s a lot of unity out there among alumni, but it’s hard to maintain without [the singular brand].”

For graduate students who frequently send large research documents and use e-mail for research and job searching, thousands of gigabytes are needed, much more than Webmail’s 100 megabytes. The Google option is the most attractive, said educational administration graduate student Amardeep Khalon, a member of the steering committee.

“I have to constantly purge my account so I can keep receiving e-mails,” Khalon said. “[Google] is a very technologically astute choice for UT.”