Unis rack up £1.6m saving with Google Apps switch

Every cloud has a silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining

Two UK universities have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds by opting for hosted Google applications instead of an in-house system.

The University of Westminster (UOW) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have both adopted the Google Apps Education Edition - a free suite of online apps from the search giant.

UOW estimates it has saved close to £1m and SOAS £650,000 by choosing the cloud service, which is free for the first four years of use.

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The two universities are among a number of academic institutions using Google Apps, including Leeds Metropolitan University and the University of Glamorgan.

Malcolm Raggett, head of IT for SOAS, said: "A substantial proportion of the budget would have gone on providing a high speed storage area network.

"Now we can shift the storage demands away from our users and email towards the demands of the institution - such as digitising material in the SOAS archives."

While Google Apps has meant lower costs and bigger storage for the universities, it's not without its own downsides. Raggett said some of the cons of using Gmail include the lack of mail merge facility and no functionality to monitor multiple email accounts in the same window, according to SOAS' Raggett.

Nevertheless, Gmail is proving popular among students, thanks to its 7.3GB of storage: the universities' previous systems offered a fraction of that and pushed users to forward university email onto webmail accounts.

Roger James, director of IT at UOW, said: "University email was regularly being blocked because of students forwarding email, because the spam filters were seeing all of this mail coming from the same institution.

"About a fifth of university emails would not get delivered to students."

UOW is now making regular use of Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar and Talk, as are staff and students at the SOAS.

For SOAS, the ability to access email anywhere with an internet connection has proved useful.

"We have researchers and students working together from across the globe and the most important advantage of moving to Google Apps is the ability for our staff and students to access their email and documents from anywhere, from China to Africa," SOAS' Raggett said.

Meanwhile, UOW is also experimenting with creating a sandboxed version of YouTube that would be accessible to students through their university homepages, where students could post video tips for their fellow pupils.