Emory Report
April 17, 2006
Volume 58, Number 27


Emory Report homepage  

April 17, 2006
AAIT endorses MS Exchange to improve e-mail, calendaring

by Michael Terrazas

Academic and Administrative Information Technology (AAIT) is developing a business case for a project that will upgrade Emory’s central e-mail and calendaring services. The project entails a change in the administrative e-mail and calendaring offering, and the infusion of additional resources for the existing Learnlink offering for students.

The division is proposing Microsoft Exchange as the administrative server option for faculty and staff. Microsoft Exchange is now the market leader in integrated e-mail and calendaring solutions and offers the rich set of features that many in the Emory community, especially administrative staff, have come to expect, said Rich Mendola, vice president for information technology and CIO.

Exchange can also be configured to allow a wide range of clients on Windows, Macintosh and Linux/Unix platforms. AAIT will recommend clients on all three platforms and work with the University’s distributed support community to develop best practices and standards to optimize Exchange use.

“We built our case on the EmoryLink report,” Mendola said, referring to the project of 2003–04 that recommended streamlining the University’s e-mailing systems and providing a central calendaring solution that will enhance administrative functions.

On the student side, EmoryLink concluded that the University should continue to support the very popular Learnlink service. No good alternative to Learnlink (which is powered by First Class software) exists on the market at the moment, according to John Ellis, director of client technology services and a member of the EmoryLink project. Learnlink is highly customizable and provides an online environment that supports e-mail, conferencing and other interactive features.

But the software does not provide good support for the mobile devices such as Palms and Treos that are becoming increasingly popular. Since Exchange already is the e-mail server of choice for some University divisions, since it offers an array of features for users—and since the licensing costs for adopting Exchange as the sole e-mail server are covered under a preferred-provider agreement Emory signed with Microsoft last year—the selection will enable AAIT to offer a significantly enhanced service at essentially the same price.

One thing the project does not mean is that all Emory employees suddenly will be required to use the same software to check their e-mail.

“We don’t believe it is our role to mandate e-mail clients for faculty,” said Mendola, adding that some people still prefer older e-mail clients such as Eudora and even Pine. “Faculty will be able to use one of our central offerings, or they can work with their local support people to select a client that is supported by their individual units.”

The project’s biggest challenge is migrating from the old servers to the new, Mendola and Ellis said. The project will encompass some 15,000 total users (faculty and staff); right now, about 800 users already are on an Exchange server, and through pilot migration projects, that number could grow to 1,500 by the end of the summer. If the project is approved by IT Governance this spring, migration could begin in earnest as early as the fall.

Mendola and Ellis estimated that about 5,000 University employees use networked calendaring services like MeetingMaker. Those employees whose current software will not be supported by Exchange will need to switch to one that is, but for most other users, the transition should be nearly invisible. Another project down the road will be linking the Exchange system on the University side to the Groupwise scheduling software used in Emory Healthcare.

“There are clear benefits to having as many people as possible on the fewest number of products,” Mendola said. “So much of what we do at this university involves collaborative projects, so [having common software] enhances our ability to work seamlessly and adds value to the institution.”