Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My concerns over Google @ SJSU


As the state budget is tightening the CSU is looking for ways to save money. One of those ways appears to be outsourcing to supposedly free service providers. Various campuses in the CSU system are outsourcing, or planning to outsource soon, employee and/or student e-mail to Google and/or Microsoft.

Reportedly the vendors are going to be doing this for free. But, is it really free? According to the editor of Wired Magazine, Chris Anderson, who also wrote the book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, "All forms of free boil down to shifting monies around...cross-subsidies." In other words if they give something away, they have to be making money elsewhere off the free gift. Where are Google and Microsoft making money on this? That question has not been adequately answered as of yet.

The outsourcing also has other unanswered questions; like, what do we do if the plan fails? It is amazing for such a big plan to be executed without a back out plan. One of the basic principles of change management is the need to plan for the unexpected. This includes the need to provide back out if the plan fails and the need to define the criteria on which a decision to back out will be made. So, what is the back out plan? That question has not been adequately answered as of yet.

A mystery also surrounds the issue of displacement of university staff. San Jose State University has already outsourced its student e-mail to Microsoft and is in the process of outsourcing faculty and staff e-mail to Google. SJSU has recently announced the layoff of 73 staff members, 21 of these are from unit 9. SJSU Chief Information Officer William Maguire said in a meeting in early 2010, “100 techs at SJSU support e-mail.” If each of tech supports legacy e-mail ten percent of the time, on average, that is the equivalent of ten positions supporting e-mail. Few may actually be supporting e-mail 100 percent of the time; but when the work is contracted out and the positions are cut, it is hard to argue there is no impact.

The classification of the people doing the work also comes into question. Typically the top-level people running the e-mail servers are Operating System Analysts. When there is a problem with an e-mail server it is an Operating System Analyst that fixes it. When that work is contracted out someone will still have to be reporting problems to the vendor, but; it is not likely that person will that be an Operating System Analyst.

A lot of information sent via e-mail between students and faculty is very sensitive. Security and privacy is a major concern. On April 19 privacy and data-protection officials from 10 countries, including Germany, Canada and France sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The officials said Google "too often" forgets people’s privacy rights as it rolls out new technologies.

According to a post by Ellen Messmer of Network World, Cloud computing makes IT access governance messier. Messmer said, "IT professionals are finding it harder than ever to set up access controls for network resources and applications used by organization employees, and cloud computing is only adding to their woes, a survey of 728 IT practitioners finds."

Not everybody is finding outsourcing to Google to be the slam-dunk it appears to be in the CSU system. According to a March 30 article by David Tidmarsh of the Yale Daily News at Yale University, "Information Technology Services has decided to postpone the University’s move from the Horde Webmail service to Google Apps for Education." The article went on to say, "Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said, “There were enough concerns expressed by faculty that we felt more consultation and input from the community was necessary.”

Few answers to these questions and issues have been forthcoming about these so-called free solutions. There is an old saying, if a deal appears too good to be true, it usually is. As SJSU appears on the verge of leaping into the pool of free e-mail for all, maybe we should be looking a little more carefully beneath the surface.

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