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Western Michigan University Selects MeritMail

Early in the 2008-2009 academic year, Jim Gilchrist, the chief information officer (CIO), and his Office of Information Technology (OIT) team at Western Michigan identified that the campus email system was in need of an overhaul.
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The WMU system was split between two separate email systems. Students and about 50% of the faculty were using a Sun platform and the rest of the faculty and staff were operating on Novell Groupwise.

Not only was supporting two systems proving costly, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage the various hardware caches and support teams scattered throughout the campus and organization.

Based on feedback from the university community, Gilchrist concluded that the new solution needed to integrate the entire campus—students, faculty and staff—in a unified application. As he and his staff evaluated solutions, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the security of the personal information of students and staff.

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

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.

After considering many options, including those from providers operating data centers all over the world and others from cloud providers, Gilchrist and the WMU OIT team decided on MeritMail.

In Gilchrist’s opinion, “All official university business must be conducted on a university system, not alternatives. 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.”

Gilchrist was uncomfortable with a service that could not provide him with specific locations where data and the personal information of students and staff were being stored. There was also a concern about ownership of the email data. MeritMail provided Western Michigan with an email solution that was private and secure—and housed in a consistent, accessible environment. It could unify all email accounts across campus on a single platform, and reduce capital and ongoing expenses. In addition, it offered additional features such as, calendaring, shared calendars and briefcases, and unlimited storage.

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.

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.

The MeritMail Pilot began in February of 2009. Greg Lozeau, Joel Fletcher, and Ed Kluk of WMU all contributed a great deal to the MeritMail Pilot, as well as, the final migration process, which turned out to be a bit of challenge.

The challenge lay in using the GroupWise Migration Tool. During the migration process Merit staff, WMU OIT and Zimbra developers worked to shore up the tool so that it would function properly and be able to manage the large campus migration that lay ahead.

Working with the new enhanced Groupwise tool, Merit staff completed the migration of over 56,000 email accounts this past summer (2010) with approximately 3,500 of them being GroupWise accounts. The migration included ‘Train the Trainer’ training sessions for WMU staff. Merit worked with approximately 180 of the staff at WMU who are responsible for training others on campus and trouble-shooting as they continue to acclimate to MeritMail.

As classes resumed for another semester, Gilchrist was confident that he and his team made the best decision for Western Michigan University. Advanced features like shared calendaring thrive in a unified system where everyone is on the same platform—allowing students and professors alike to access one another’s calendar across campus. MeritMail offers Western Michigan the privacy, security and personalized customer support that they sought in an email client—all from a local provider on a trusted network, Merit Network.

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.”

Gilchrist also noted that the collaborative aspect is his favorite facet of the new e-mail 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 an increase in efficiency across campus.

More About Western Michigan University

In its annual ranking of the nation’s 4,000 colleges and universities, U.S. News & World Report consistently lists WMU as one of the nation’s top 100 public universities. This is the 20th year that WMU has appeared in the magazine’s top grouping of “best national universities.”

Western Michigan University’s main campus is located in Kalamazoo, covering more than 550 acres and including 125 buildings. The university has branch campuses located in Battle Creek, Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, Holland, Lansing, Muskegon, South Haven and Traverse City.