YSU email moves to Office 365

The email system used by Youngstown State University will be upgraded to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Ken Schindler, chief technology officer, and the information technology services email evaluation team — made up of Michael Hrishenko of Media and Academic Computing; Rick Marsico of computer services; and Jason Rakers of network telecommunications — have changed the YSU email system to Microsoft Office 365, which boasts a new interface and storage improvements for students.

After Labor Day, Office 365 will provide students with 25 gigabytes of mailbox space; the previous system offered only 200 megabytes. The attachment size is also larger, allowing users to attach 25 MBs — up from the prior limit of 10 MBs.

“It was 1990s technology, and we were two generations behind,” Schindler said. “We realized we were not providing a level of service that a university needs here.”

Schindler said converting to Office 365 any sooner than Sept. 3 would probably result in poor levels of service to the student body.

“That is the earliest we can switch systems with confidence that all technical factors will work, and we will have sufficient capacity,” he said.

After discussions with the YSU Student Government Association, several IT consultants and universities such as Kent State University, the YSU technology team decided that the previous email system needed to be updated.

Team members then met with B2B Technologies, an Atlanta-based consulting firm, to obtain upgrade advice that best suited YSU.

Schindler said he is hopeful that Office 365 will help YSU students, faculty and staff communicate more effectively, primarily by allowing users to access their email, contacts, tasks and calendars in one place.

“It’s an astronomical difference,” Schindler said. “The portal was a bit dated. [Office 365] has a friendly interface and is more up to date.”

Students will retain their regular YSU email address, but will be unable to automatically forward emails from their Office 365 account to another email account. However, students will still be able to forward individual emails from other services like Gmail or Yahoo to their Office 365 account.

Rakers said forwarding email causes a spam generator, which often blocked the YSU website from certain computers last year.

“If you use programs like Thunderbird, it would avoid spam and blocking issues,” Rakers said of an application that allows users to sync email accounts.

In addition, Office 365 supports mobile devices, with the exception of the BlackBerry. Travis Battiest, SGA parliamentarian, said a new email system has been an issue since 2006.

“It’s been four years,” he said. “Faculty, staff, administration and students have complained about the email system for years.”

Battiest raised concerns last year while serving as SGA’s vice president for university affairs. He said the university’s email announcement service was originally intended for official campus business that affected all students — but that it eventually devolved into numerous announcements about bake sales and issues of lesser significance.

“We needed to start looking for other solutions,” Battiest said.

YSU did have to invest $10,000 for additional high availability equipment to ensure that the login screen never fails.

“It’s one of those things that if it works, no one notices, but if it doesn’t work, everyone notices,” Schindler said.

Schindler said Office 365 can be roughly compared to Google’s Gmail because it has a similar layout.

However, the new Web interface can drag and drop messages to various boxes, such as inbox, outbox and trash.

“We’re very excited and anticipate a smooth convergence,” Schindler said. “It’s like replacing a Model T with a Corvette.”

For instructional videos, visit http://web.ysu.edu/mac and click on the Microsoft Office 365 link.