Zimbra v. GMail

Zimbra Contract Draws to a Close; College Considers Switch to GMail

Hanna Martin

Staff Reporter

Early in September, McDaniel students received an email from the IT department informing them that the current three-year email provider contract with Zimbra would be up for negotiation. The college is now considering switching to the popular email service Gmail, a creation of the internet conglomerate Google.

A five-question survey was sent out to students, asking them if they had a Gmail account and, if so, how many of the applications they used. It also questioned students about their reaction to the potential change.

The survey sent out to students also informed them that the switch to Gmail would offer them the option of keeping their username for life. For students who give their campus email to so many people over their time here, it will be easier to avoid switching addresses. The option to delete an account when the student graduates is also available.

Students have had mixed reactions about the switch, mainly based on the fact that Gmail is frequently used for personal email accounts. Zimbra has been a popular interface for the duration of the contract, and many people have become comfortable with it.

“I like keeping my personal email and my college email separate,” says freshman Rachel Hoffman. “Zimbra is more professional and focused; it helps me concentrate.”

Another advantage to using Zimbra is that it is based in the campus, so if there is an internet outage, students on campus can still access their accounts. Gmail offers no such option.

However, staying with Zimbra also means that if there is a power outage on campus, no one can access their account; if there is an internet outage, no one off campus can access their accounts.

“This may not immediately concern undergrads who live on campus, but consider the five thousand graduate students who use our email system from off campus,” says Chris Palsgrove of the IT department.

Another disadvantage is that storage space on Zimbra is extremely limited, where Gmail offers a much greater amount that grows every day. Gmail also offers all the current applications available to students, such as the calendar and address book; it outstrips Zimbra with video chat and Google documents.

The main concern with switching to Gmail is security; because the data will be hosted off-campus, McDaniel’s server will no longer own the server on which the data is stored. The IT department however, would still retain the ability to modify accounts and users would still have the same control over their accounts and data.

“We do have a thorough contract with Google that ensures the confidentiality and security of our data that they keep,” says Palsgrove. “Still, it will be an issue for some people who may distrust third-parties controlling our data.”

Another factor affecting this possible change is money; McDaniel pays twelve thousand dollars a year just to keep students on Zimbra. Gmail, on the other hand, is absolutely free, because it is funded by advertisements. However, in the version of Gmail currently being considered, the account would be ad-free for the duration of the student’s enrollment, with ads only being turned on after the student’s graduation.

The hope is that both parties will benefit from this relationship, as Google hopes students will keep their accounts after graduation, and students will have access to a great free email service.

“Gmail is looking like a very strong option at this point,” says Palsgrove.

The college is currently testing to make sure that they have the same level of control over the accounts and can easily switch from Zimbra.

If the college does decide to switch, the contract will last for four years and be up for negotiation again in 2014. Meanwhile, the debate continues.