Google and Microsoft Battle for College E-Mail

Google and Microsoft Battle for College E-Mail

College students used to complain about dining-hall mystery meat. Their new
gripe? Puny e-mail inboxes.

Students have been howling that school e-mail accounts are too small to
handle their daily deluge of mail and attachments. To address that problem,
a growing number of colleges and universities are outsourcing their e-mail.
The companies swooping in to manage student accounts for free Google and
Microsoft. Like search, software and operating systems, campuses are a
burgeoning battleground for the tech titans.

Google now manages e-mail for more than 2,000 colleges and universities,
enabling students to transform accounts capped at 100 mb into Google-managed
inboxes that allow for 70 times as much mail. Microsoft also provides free
Web-based mail for thousands of schools, including colleges in 86 countries.
Once colleges switch systems, students keep their .edu e-mail address while
upgrading from stodgy campus access pages to speedier, sleeker Google log-ins.

Kirk Gregersen, senior director for Microsoft’s Live@Edu program, says many
schools that already rely on Microsoft software and services are comfortable
expanding the relationship by letting Microsoft manage Web-based student

Early adopters of Google, such as Northwestern, are lately being joined by
Cornell, Georgetown and Temple, to name a few. Google’s Apps for Education
program has gained significant momentum as student tech demands mount and
budgetary pressures strain campus IT departments. Handing the e-mail keys
over to Google helps schools avoid costly server upgrades while capitalizing
on Web-based e-mail’s popularity among students. Eric Weil, managing partner
for Student Monitor, a national college-focused market research firm, says
the average college student has two or three personal e-mail addresses, and
Gmail’s popularity among students has doubled over the past two years.

In the 2008 national Campus Computing Project survey, 42% of schools
reported that they had already migrated or were about to migrate to an
outsourced student e-mail service. Another 28% said they were considering
switching. CCP founding director Kenneth Green says many of today’s
first-year students like to use the Web-based e-mail they grew accustomed to
in high school, just as many stick to an existing cell phone number rather
than get a new dorm number.

Brown University is among the legion of schools now testing Google-managed
messaging. Brown Junior Sarah Bolling says she hopes her school Googlifies
permanently because she gets about 300 e-mails a week and misses important
class messages when her tiny 250-mb school inbox overflows. She’s not alone.
More than 60% of Brown students have already been forwarding their messages
to Gmail accounts, says Donald Tom, Brown’s IT support director. He says the
switch could help reduce a planned multimillion-dollar expenditure to
upgrade Brown’s tech infrastructure.

Of schools in the 2008 CCP survey that reported having outsourced e-mail already, 57% said they had opted for Google, while 38% had partnered with
Microsoft. In addition to e-mail, Google’s free Apps for Education offering
includes voice- and video-chatting capabilities as well as collaborative
word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and website-creation software.
Google Apps shed its beta, or trial, label in July, reassuring
decision makers. Microsoft, which is refining its own Web-based Office
software, grants every student 25 gb of free online storage space.

When Notre Dame hired out their e-mail to Google last year, the school saved
$1.5 million in storage and other tech costs, says Katie Rose, Notre Dame’s
program manager for enterprise initiatives. Student e-mail satisfaction
ratings rose 36% after the switch. Arizona State estimated that its savings with
Google were $400,000 per year. Washington State University, meanwhile, expects
to save about $100,000 by working with Microsoft.

What’s in it for Google and Microsoft Not revenue. Neither company charges
for outsourced e-mail. In its contracts with schools, Google forgoes the $50
annual fee per user that it charges companies and promises not to impose ads
on students or faculty. Microsoft makes a similar pledge.

Even if it doesn’t boost short-term profits, Google hopes serving schools
for free will help broaden acceptance for Web-based e-mail and software
services, says Jeff Keltner, who heads Google’s Apps for Education team.
Keltner says administrators appreciate not just cost savings but security
benefits. “They walk away saying my data is probably safer in Google’s data
center than anywhere I would house it myself,” he says. “And they appreciate the
advantages to having data in the cloud, rather than residing on phones or
laptops, which are devices that tend to get lost.”

Timothy Chester, chief information officer for Pepperdine University, which
recently partnered with Google, says his staff is 20% smaller than it was
three years ago. Taking advantage of Google’s economies of scale means that
his smaller team can focus more on improving the way computers are used for
learning on campus. “We want our staff working more with students and
faculty and less on the nuts and bolts of delivering technology.”
Read “Why Google Wants You to Google Yourself.”