In 2012 it was reported there were 425 million users around the globe using Gmail and that number has likely increased over the past two years considering the server’s growth. Today’s crash only lasted a mere minutes, however, if longer an institution affected more than any other institution are universities. Across the United States, 66 of the top 100 universities are dependent on Gmail, according to a 2012 Tech Crunch article.
Most prominently, Michigan University signed a 10-year contract with Google in 2011 for the company to provide services such as Gmail, Google Calender, and Google Docs for students, the faculty, and staff. All though the school still uses their school addresses, the infrastructure of the e-mail was changed to Gmail.
Ryan Vis, a senior business systems analyst at the University of Michigan told Guardian Liberty Voice that “this is not the first time we’ve had a service disruption, but I wouldn’t classify it as a shutdown [like Friday’s].” Ryan noted a crash such as the one experienced on Friday afternoon as being rare.
However, the global incident does beg the question, is Google worth it? According to a final report, Michigan State University (M-U) had a choice between Google and Microsoft in 2010 when thinking about adopting collaborative tools to better serve teachers, students, and “global engagement and scholarly activities.” Their final selection was based on which server could provide a “flexible, broad-based, and accessible environment, with tools that could meet most of the needs for a majority of the users.”
Their decision was not an easy one, and it involved several steps in which they compared the services of Microsoft to Google. The criteria the university used was based on whether the partner had an existing strong University of Michigan partnership, the percentage of the market share including a higher usage by higher education peers, the maturity of the existing offerings, and their ability to act as a service provider, as well as a product provider. They also looked into the number of components of the suit that students and staff and faculty use.
The University of Michigan also invited Google along with Microsoft in Sept. and Oct. of 2010 to allow them to demonstrate their online collaboration tools and to show their company offerings to IT and technical staff. The presentations included a description of the tool suits, and information about how collaboration at U-M can be enhanced with the tool.
Lastly, following the 2010 presentations, the campus community, including students, faculty, researchers, and staff partook in an e-mail survey. The results showed that the University of Michigan community preferred Google and Gmail over Microsoft, an example of the growing affect the server has over universities across the U.S.
The IT Council was also concerned with being cost-effective with their choice, and analysis found that Google, including using Gmail as their infrastructure, would save an estimated $1.7 million annually. Microsoft had also the same amount, but the final report says, expenses would only increase if both were chosen.
The report also noted how Google’s strengths included “ease of use, widespread adoption by University of Michigan members, leadership position in the collaboration space, strong open APIs, and commitment to continued investment.”
Standardizing university e-mail systems under Gmail may seem to be a positive, in terms of saving cash, along with a plethora of other benefits. However, there can be repercussions, which could turn out to be profound in a world where e-mail is absolutely crucial to communication. Flaws using Google as a campus-wide service was pointed out in detail by critics in Michigan University’s final report. All details aside, however, the question must be asked – if there was a campus wide emergency shut down, how would students be notified? Its effect over that university would be profound, and there would be chaos that would ensue on top of a campus shutdown. Today’s crash puts into perspective just how much students, teachers and the rest of a university campus community depend on the various Google tools, especially Gmail.
By Kollin Lore