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Western Michigan University Migrates Faculty, Staff and Student Email to MeritMail

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Merit Network, Inc. announced today the successful migration of Western Michigan University (WMU) to MeritMail, Merit’s enterprise-level hosted email service.

Over 56,000 email accounts of faculty, staff and students were successfully migrated with completion of the project last month. The campus-wide migration followed a pilot project which sold the WMU Office of Information Technology (OIT) on the benefits of “nearsourcing” their email to MeritMail.

WMU’s Chief Information Officer, Jim Gilchrist, explained that he refers to the transition to MeritMail as “nearsourcing” because he gets the benefit of cloud services, with hosting provided by a regional membership network with datacenters located within the state.

Gilchrist was pleased with the data privacy and security WMU achieved through the consolidation of email to the hosted MeritMail service, provided by Merit and powered by Zimbra.

“Of utmost importance to me is the security of the data that is transferred over and stored in an e-mail system. As far as I am concerned, student data security is just as important as faculty and staff data security,” Gilchrist said.

For Western Michigan University, as well as other higher education institutions, email is a critical component of conducting campus business. Faculty and staff receive highly sensitive and personal information via the web. In addition, students manage their financial aid arrangements through email.

Gilchrist and his team decided on MeritMail after considering many options. MeritMail provided WMU with an email solution that is private and secure, eliminates capital and operating expenses and has the advantages of shared applications for faculty, staff and students.

Merit’s ability to integrate the entire campus in a unified application and support a fully customized solution also received high marks from Gilchrist. He and his team led the project and got campus buy-in by communicating the benefits through campus-wide communications including web tutorials and training sessions.

“All official university business must be conducted on a university system, not alternatives,” he explained. “The amount of usage is directly correlated to how advanced and useful the system is, and on that basis, we found that MeritMail is a superior system to the other systems that were evaluated.”

During the wrap up of the project, Gilchrist indicated that he has seen an explosion of collaboration activities across campus between student groups and faculty and staff. While staff, who were perhaps expecting an explosion of sorts during the transition, found the actual migration from GroupWise to MeritMail, “surprisingly uneventful.”

The MeritMail migration integrated a WMU system that was previously split between two separate email systems. The accounts of students and roughly half of WMU faculty were supported by a Sun Microsystems platform, while the rest of faculty and staff operated on a Novell GroupWise client.

During the migration process, WMU OIT, Merit IT and Zimbra developers worked closely on the GroupWise Migration Tool to ensure a smooth transition during the full campus migration. The email accounts that were supported by Sun were transitioned with a fast and powerful migration system created by Merit’s own IT department.

“MeritMail unified all email accounts across Western Michigan University’s campus on a single platform, and reduced capital and ongoing expenses,” said Leslie Williamson, Merit’s director of services. “In addition, it offers additional features such as unlimited storage for every account, 24×7 live support from Merit’s Services Support Desk, and calendaring that allows the sharing of schedules between students, faculty and staff across campus.”

Gilchrist noted during a recent meeting that the collaborative aspect is his favorite facet of the new MeritMail system. Both the undergraduate and graduate student associations are utilizing the Briefcase and Shared Folders features, which has assisted in supporting business practices and has helped realize increased collaboration initiatives across campus.

Merit Network will be featuring its secure community cloud, MeritMail, and other services at 2010 EDUCAUSE in Anaheim, California. The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference is the foremost event for IT professionals in education.

Visit Merit Network at booth #825 inside the Anaheim Convention Center on October 12-15, 2010 to learn more and to register to win an HDTV.