IT News

Moving to the Cloud

USF Faculty and Staff Move to the "Cloud"

There is a lot of buzz in the IT world about moving IT services to the "cloud."

What is the Cloud?
So, what's the "cloud" you ask? The "cloud" is a metaphor for subscribing to services that are hosted on third party computing infrastructure.

If you have a third party email account, like Yahoo, Google, or Hotmail, you have experienced cloud-based email services. If you use free storage accounts like Google Drive, SkyDrive, or Dropbox through a tablet, home pc, or mobile device, you have used a cloud service for personal file storage.

Advantages and Disadvantages
There are advantages and disadvantages to using cloud services, but as these hosted services continue to mature and become more cost effective, more organizations are migrating part of their service portfolio to the cloud. Many cloud providers are offering aggressive incentives to educational institutions to adopt cloud services. Some services are even being offered at no charge to educational organizations willing to commit to using hosted platforms to provide students and faculty with resources that have been traditionally provisioned on-premises.

Microsoft and Google have been at the forefront of gratis, hosted email and collaboration platforms for educational customers. In 2007, USF made the decision to host student email services in the cloud through the free Google Gmail service, which has significantly reduced the mail storage and infrastructure costs associated with providing email service to our student population.

The Microsoft Office365 platform uses the very same mail platform that we use today for faculty and staff email accounts. Formally known as Microsoft Exchange, our current email platform is housed in our campus Data Center facilities. The fact that we are already using Exchange makes the transition to the Office365 cloud offering much more transparent to the email users being migrated. The added benefit of a free hosted service makes a very compelling financial case for the transition. Many universities around the country have realized the benefits of adopting the Office365 platform and have migrated their email services into the Microsoft cloud.

The Office365 email service offers a very generous 50 gigabyte mail storage quota for each user, which far exceeds our own internal quota of 6 gigabytes. With nearly 10,000 email accounts within the scope of this effort, this is a tremendous offering to USF. We expect to see these quotas continue to increase as other competitors increase their offerings as well. Microsoft also builds high availability and disaster recovery into their environments, which saves the university additional resources that we have historically allocated to maintain redundancy and resiliency. Microsoft has also added other services to the Office365 platform, which may benefit the university in the future.

USF IT is working with the departments across campus to coordinate the migration schedules, which are designed to reduce the disruption of email service to a single email client restart. The project is already well underway with hundreds of email accounts that have been running in the new environment for many months.

We are expected to complete the migration of the Exchange email accounts for faculty and staff to Office365 by the end of this calendar year.

Click HERE for more information on Office365.