Student email

Another piece on Slashdot today was about how GMail is increasing its limits since some users are going past what is already there. What's more, it points out that the two other biggest freemail systems have gone past GMail in terms of storage. Well, they kind of have to as gmail is something of the gold standard and if you're going to compete you have to be better then them. No biggie.

But it does underline the sheer difficulty in providing email service these days. End users, thanks in large part to the work Google has done in gmail, expect the following in their mail service:
  • No significant mail quota
  • A fast, easy to use web interface
  • A fast, easy to use search function for mail inside the web client
  • Very effective spam filters
  • The ability to do everything you want without having to use a mail-client like Thunderbird
That's a lot to live up to, so it is no wonder that .EDUs are actively considering forking over their student email to the commercial services. It is possible to do all of the above, but it is very expensive. The big enterprise email products (Exchange, GroupWise, Lotus Notes) all fall down on at least one of the above points. It is possible to cobble together something out of opensource components, but as we've learned the Achilles heel of the OSS mail stack is spam. Plus, the OSS stack has a tendency to fall apart when scaling to the levels we're at. And we soooo can't afford to serve student email out of the enterprise systems, so rock, meet hard place.

As a side note, I know of at least one .EDU larger than us that serves student email out of Exchange. That's 50,000 accounts all told. So it can be done. But they're a private university, unlike WWU which is publicly funded.

Yet, there are still problems with 'outsourcing' student email to Google or Microsoft. First and foremost, if our internet connection bombs students on campus are out of email. Second, data mining on usage patters by this highly desirable demographic run contrary to the spirit of .edu mail. Third, single-sign-on may be hard to impossible to accomplish, forcing students to have *shudder* more than one password to manage. Fourth, it may not be possible to 'skin' the interface with our official WWU web standards. Er brand.

In the end, we could up our student mail quota to 2GB and students STILL wouldn't use it. Good email service is so much more than sheer quota these days.


We're using Netmail for a few years now. It's straight forward and easy to administer (Novell claims 250.000 accounts per server, that is from the docs from 2001). Our students get 50mb storage, if they need more storage they have to go to Gmail, etc.. Main point is that we decided at our college that official communication with our students is only via the addresses we provided. Next to that who are students gonna call when Hotmail is down ?? We cannot guarantee mail delivery outside our walls.

There is an IDM connector available for Google.