REDMOND, Wash. — Jan. 14, 2010 — At St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., it wasn’t so long ago that a simple mass e-mail announcing a power outage could take up to an hour to reach the student body.
But in early 2009, the school implemented Live@edu, Microsoft’s hosted e-mail, calendar and collaboration tool for the education sector. Now, says Joe Tufano, the university’s vice president and CIO, everyday communication tasks are handled quickly and easily. “Students receive notices in minutes,” he says. And with all the students on the same system, it’s a much more reliable communication channel.
Tristan Gibeau, a Microsoft Student Partner and graduate student in computer engineering at the University of Central Florida, uses Live@edu to collaborate and share information with fellow students.
Free to educational institutions and end users, Live@edu helps universities streamline communications with students through one e-mail system, providing a single, true source of information.
As technology becomes more and more complex, IT administration and costs increase. Today’s students expect higher and higher levels of functionality. Maintaining servers and systems to support the needs of university administrators, faculty and students is difficult if not impossible for some schools.
Using Live@edu running on remote Microsoft servers saves university dollars and IT administration time, and students get the benefit of enhanced e-mail features and collaboration tools. Since last summer, more than 5,000 schools in over 100 countries have adopted Live@edu services, giving tens of millions of students access to shared calendars, documents and workspaces from anywhere on virtually any Web-enabled device.
“Our goal is to bring enterprise-class technology solutions to educational institutions at no cost,” says Markus Weickenmeier, Information Worker Live Lead, Microsoft Live@edu. “The program is part of Microsoft’s overall investment in education as a segment and a way to engage with the future information workers of the world.”
Money and Time Saved
Hosting university e-mail on Microsoft servers can reduce traffic on local servers, saving on maintenance, effort and cost. Missouri State University has four campuses serving about 25,000 students. Maintaining an e-mail system for that many students is difficult in terms of providing reliable functionality as well as staffing enough people to oversee the system.
A couple years ago, it became clear to Pat Day, coordinator of operations and systems at Missouri State, that the system was outdated, but the university’s servers were not big enough to upgrade to a more current system.
Implementing Live@edu services made a lot of sense for this large university. The e-mail system could be run off of powerful, enterprise-class Microsoft servers and maintained by Microsoft staff. And, only one half-time person would be needed on site at Missouri State to maintain the new system.
“The university is saving $50,000 per year in hardware and licensing alone,” Day says. “We’re ahead of the curve. When budget crunches hit the university in 2009, our department had already saved.”
Similarly, St. John’s University decided to implement Live@edu instead of upgrading its current system to save money but also because of the significant time saved.
“To build the servers and buy the equipment and so on was going to take much longer than simply providing the Live@edu program,” Tufano says. “It was very attractive, and Microsoft did a great job of explaining everything, working with us to implement the program.”
The switch to Live@edu also has automated much of the IT administration at St. John’s. “Not that we turn away from it,” Tufano says, “but once we know the updates have gone, we don’t need to manage it at all. We look at our statistics every morning and work with Microsoft to improve them, but we don’t have to do any of the tech stuff on a daily basis.”
It’s much simpler to manage a system that is hosted by a third party. Microsoft does the maintenance through remote systems, allowing IT administrators to focus on more critical tasks on site.
“By reducing the need for hardware updates, server maintenance and IT support,” Weickenmeier says, “universities can redirect resources back to the organization’s educational mission — and depending on the configuration, these resources can be significant.”
Secure Storage and Greater Reliability
Cost savings are just one reason to switch to Live@edu. Schools also find that Live@edu offers flexible and reliable services in the cloud with enhanced security, including spam filtering technologies and SSL-encrypted authentication. In addition, Microsoft has multiple datacenters located across Asia, Europe and the Americas. Duplicate university data is stored at two separate, random locations for added security.
Microsoft stores data from colleges and universities alongside data from paying customers, which helps cover the cost of providing the Live@edu programs for free to educational institutions. The Live@edu program and datacenters are maintained exactly the same as any of the services offered to other customers.
“When we were managing Exchange on site, we might have had two outages per semester,” Day says. “We’d have to put two people on the job to fix it, but now if there is an issue Microsoft resolves the situation for us.” Day says that during the fall 2009 term there were only three breaks in services, and each time the situation was resolved in just a few hours.
Enhanced E-Mail Functionality
For students, Live@edu offers robust communications, similar to what they will eventually use when they enter the work force. Users receive 10GB inbox capacity and the ability to attach in e-mail documents up to 20 MB. And with Outlook Live, it’s easier to stay organized, keeping track of class and exam schedules in one convenient place.
Tristan Gibeau, a Microsoft Student Partner and graduate student in computer engineering at the University of Central Florida, says that e-mail and communications were pretty bad before the university deployed Live@edu in spring 2009.
“The system was archaic,” Gibeau says. “It was difficult to check e-mail because the server was often down. You could access e-mail through a Web portal, but there were no other services. We couldn’t even manage our contacts properly.”
Live@edu enables students to build engaging e-mails and communicate more easily with other students, faculty and even colleagues outside the university. In addition, Live@edu accounts remain active for life, enabling students and alumni to store portfolios and other data on the Microsoft server systems and to have a consistent e-mail address no matter where they live or work.
Online Storage and Collaboration
In addition to providing enhanced communication, Live@edu enables students to collaborate more effectively and share information with classmates. For his senior design project, Gibeau worked with classmates to develop a smart parking garage.
“One of the biggest problems on our campus is parking,” Gibeau says. “So we designed and developed a garage that would navigate vehicles to the closest available parking spaces. When a vehicle approaches the parking garage, it calculates the closest spot and prints the directions out for the driver.”
Gibeau’s project team used Office Live Workspace and SkyDrive to collaborate on a 100-page paper with supporting software. The group was able to share code updates on the fly, and each member could work on designated sections of the paper simultaneously.
Live@edu gives students 25 GB of online storage through SkyDrive and the ability to share and edit their Microsoft Office documents online using Office Live Workspace. Instead of dealing with version control headaches when sending papers back and forth as e-mail attachments, Gibeau and his team used Outlook Live to keep documents in one place at all times, making communication and collaboration much easier.
“The latest version of the code was always available,” Gibeau says. “There was no need to e-mail updates to the team or call to ask for the most recent version.”
Live@edu also helps students be more productive by giving them anywhere-access to files and e-mail. Andrew Smirnov, a Microsoft Student Partner and senior informatics and Russian major at the University of Washington, uses Live@edu from home as well as while he’s on the go to stay on top of school work.
“I love that the e-mail system integrates with my phone,” Smirnov says. “If your phone supports Exchange services, you can get push e-mail — if you had to use your own server, this would cost a lot of money. We can get this service for free with Live@edu.”
Giving students access to technologies for working remotely helps prepare them for the mobile work force they will soon enter. Smirnov says accessing work from any location is quick and easy. Students simply go http://www.outlook.com, log in to their accounts on the home page, and gain access to their documents and communication tools from anywhere, saving time and making group projects easier and faster.
“I can use SkyDrive to upload a large file at school where I have a fast upload time and then access the file using cloud computing at home where I have slow access — I can work on projects, collaborate with teammates, watch a movie, whatever — it’s a huge advantage.”
The Changing Education Landscape
Cloud computing services such as Live@edu bring opportunities for higher education and IT administrators to work together to transform the learning environment. Students and teachers have vast resources at their fingertips through the Internet. Real-time communication and collaboration among teachers and students in different locations is now possible. Work groups can share documents and work on projects using shared workspaces. And new technologies and standards are making it possible to virtualize basic IT services so that educational institutions can direct resources to their core mission of educating students.
“Microsoft is making an incredible investment in the future of students, by bringing tools to education institutions around the world that are not just enterprise-class but that are in tune with what students are expecting today,” Weickenmeier says. “With Live@edu, IT directors everywhere can focus on what truly matters by educating tomorrow’s leaders, while providing state-of-the-art technology with the help of Microsoft. It is truly exciting to see where we have come from and where we are going in terms of collaboration and communication.”