Outsourcing student e-mail

I saw on Slashdot today a piece about a University migrating their student email to Windows Live.

There have been high-level discussions about doing the same here at WWU, only we're still trying to figure out if Windows Live or a Google program makes the most sense. No decision has been made, though Windows Live would integrate much better into our environment due to the presence of student accounts in Active Directory. The Google offering has better, 'hearts and mind,' support among us techs, but the Microsoft offering would require less work from us techs to get running.

Last I heard, neither offering supported IMAP. GMail doesn't support IMAP, so I doubt any Google offer would. No idea if Windows Live (general access) even does.

There are a number of reasons why outsourcing email is attractive, and right there at the top is SPAM. We can't afford any commercial product to do student anti-spam, as they all charge per-head and even $2/head gets pretty spendy when you have to cover 18,000 student accounts. Currently, student e-mail anti-SPAM is all open-source and I still hear that the SPAM problem is pretty bad. The most senior of our unix admins spends about half his day dealing with nothing but SPAM related problems, so outsourcing would save us that expense as well.

The number two reason is price. Both the Google offering and Microsoft offering are free. Both have promised that they won't put advertising in their web portals for active students, but the usage data may be used to tailor advertising programs targeted (elsewhere) at the high-profit college-age population. Both offerings permit the student to maintain the address after graduation, though in that case they would get advertising in their web portals.

There are a number of problems that outsourcing introduces.
  • Identity synchronization. MS is easiest, Google will require some custom code.
  • Password synchronization. Do we even want to do it? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Account enable/disable. How do we deactivate accounts?
  • Single sign-on. Is it possible to integrate whichever we use into CAS? Can we integrate it into the WWU Portal?
  • Web interface skinning. Will they permit skinning with the WWU style, or will they force their own?
The answers to all of the above are not in yet, which is why a decision hasn't been made on which way we're going. But the decision to outsource at all is all but made at this point.

Update 1 10/13/2007
Update 2 8/1/2008