Blitz on the way out?

Inside Higher Ed reports that the College is looking into outsourcing campus e-mail to either Google or Microsoft.

Dartmouth students still rely on BlitzMail today, downloading their messages with a traditional Windows- or Mac-based client. But nearly 10 years later, even David L. Bucciero, the director of technical services, calls the service “archaic.” It lacks some of the “bells and whistles,” he said, that most students take for granted with the personal Web-based e-mail accounts they take with them to college. Such features might include the ability to view and compose messages in HTML, which allows the customization of fonts and colors, or virtually unlimited storage space.

Those inadequacies — combined with occasional downtime — explain why Dartmouth might go back to the drawing board. And in rethinking its e-mail strategy, officials there will confront similar issues as many other colleges and universities in a time of rapid shifts in messaging habits and in the economics of Internet applications. Bucciero and a planned study group will soon consider whether it’s worthwhile to continue maintaining BlitzMail, or whether Dartmouth should consider for e-mail what colleges routinely do for many other basic operational functions: outsource it.

In the world of e-mail, outsourcing means two things: Google or Microsoft. Both have been marketing Web-based messaging services to small businesses, nonprofits and other groups, and they’ve focused more intensely on the higher education market over the past year.

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The availability of viable options outside of the university IT department has forced administrators to consider the consequences of abandoning their in-house e-mail systems. Does it make financial sense to keep spending resources on aging proprietary software when it’s available on the Web? Do colleges’ services still offer advantages over those reflexively preferred by students? And in offloading a primary function of the campus information technology infrastructure, what role would remain for administrators who previously oversaw e-mail services?

When NetBlitz went off-line wasn’t the College’s argument that they didn’t want non-Dartmouth personnel servicing Dartmouth’s e-mail system. “Improving security has been a focus,” said Bucciero at that time.