Category Archives: Cloud computing

Computing in the cloud at the UW

As many of you know, I’ve been experimenting with gmail and related applications using my UW account now for about 6 months. Just moving my email over has has a profoundly positive effect on where and when I can work, how much work I can get done, and the ease of organizing, searching, and finding my email.

And all I did was forward my mail.

Now it turns out that the University of Washington, is almost certainly, maybe, going to be doing some small scale experiments with both Google and Microsoft’s Exchange labs. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited.

Let’s start with some background on the way things have evolved around this issue. I spoke on the phone with Scott Barker who’s on the team negotiating with Google and Microsoft on securing these licensing agreements and he filled me in quite a bit.

In some ways, this change has been a few years in the making, starting back when President Emmert sent a letter to the then University Computing people asking them to implement an exchange server. Turns out the President wanted some software that would integrate his calendar, email, contacts and so on and it needed to be compatible with his handheld devices. So… they made him an Exchange Server and as of this summer, another 1000 or so staff will join that Exchange Server group bringing them up to 3000 staff and faculty. This is no small thing! Whole units are abandoning Oracle calendar and PC-PINE — services that have been with us for quite some time and going toward collaborative, integrated services that make work life easier.

Enter the alumni association and other forward thinking people. If Exchange server is a great networking business tool, cloud computing (in some ways) makes Exchange look like HTML 1.0.

Turns out the UW Alumni association have had an agreement with Microsoft Exchange Labs to manage their email accounts now for 6 months. And it turns out that the UW at large will have an agreement of some sort with both Google and Microsoft to handle at least some student accounts in their respective clouds.  These units are starting the great experiment to answer the question: can a place that has so many state and federal rules really live and work in the cloud?

Of course there are issues. FERPA, HIPAA, discovery issues, privacy, and many many more, but as Scott explained, that’s what these agreements are supposed to do: offer us (the University) some protections in these areas. It remains to be seen how much and how they will offer them but that’s what the negotiations are about. This isn’t about whether the University will be doing this, this is about how much, how fast, and in what way.

For staff here in Tacoma who are worried about this change or the Exchange server “mandate” from President Emmert, you needn’t be: at this point the UW Tacoma is not adopting either system. I was told by Forrest Tyree that the Exchange Server is not happening any time soon on this campus.  And the next steps for the Could Computing people are for Scott’s committee to meet with computing directors (Charles Lord is one of those people) and start the process of implementing the changes. From there we’ll have the endless meetings, the trainings.. you know: business as normal for change.

Still, a guy can get excited, right?

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Filed under Cloud computing, collaborative learning