How we went to Live@edu–The University of Reading

The University of Reading is one of the UK’s leading research establishments, and is consistently one of the most popular higher education choices in the country. I recently met up with Mark Cockshoot, assistant director of IT services at the university to talk about how they made the leap into the cloud with Microsoft Live@edu

[JM] Tell me how you came to use Live@edu?

[MC] The University of Reading hasn’t often been a “first mover” when it comes to technology; we’re not on the bleeding edge. If we were a bigger institution we’d have more resources to use but being the size we are we can’t afford to make mistakes. We chose Live@edu not because it saved us money – our existing student mail solution cost us less than £10,000 per year to run - but because of the value it added to the student experience. We get consistently high student satisfaction ratings in surveys.  Our student body was already familiar and comfortable with Microsoft software – it made sense to continue that into the cloud. “We chose Live@edu because of the value it added to the student experience…” Mark Cockshoot

[JM] How did you look at other solutions before choosing?

[MC] We had a working party, made up of a cross section of people from the University from faculty to students, to evaluate the different options available and decide what was feasible. We had to consider compliance with the law, and Microsoft’s guarantee about the location of email storage amongst other things meant it was an easy decision.

[JM] You migrated from an old Linux-based system; what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

[MC] We had to migrate some 13,000 existing accounts to the cloud; our main emphasis was on minimising disruption for our users. We found that by breaking our migration down into smaller batches we could make the process more manageable and ensure a good level of service to our students – especially as most of them rely on their email at the start of the academic year to find out important information. We looked at doing the migration in one hit, but we did some quick calculations and worked out that it could take a number of days to complete such a large migration. We felt smaller batches were more suitable for us. We underestimated some things – particularly the 25MB mail size limit – when migrating. Some of our users did have large attachments that did not get carried across but so far this has not caused problems. Although we couldn’t migrate contact lists, we left access to the old system open to our students so that they can manually retrieve any info they need.

[JM] How did you prepare your helpdesk services for the switch to the cloud, and how have you driven student use of the service?

[MC] We had expected support of such a big migration to be a major issue, but in the end we ended up with support queries from less than 2% of users. Our helpdesk team was involved in the process from day one. They knew what was coming, where to find information about it and how to deal with it, and as a result they’ve provided a truly brilliant service to our students. Of the 16,500 mailboxes that we now have deployed, we’ve only received 250 email-related support requests – a real testimony to the usability and stability of Live@edu. We ensure all students are aware that official communication is via their student mail account, so we actively encourage through the student union, newspaper and web portal that students make full and best use of their Live@edu account.

[JM] Microsoft recently announced Microsoft Office 365 for education – with the news that we’ll be bringing Lync Online and SharePoint Online to the cloud services for education. Do you see yourself moving more services to the cloud?

“It’s simple really – if someone will do it for you, why should you do it yourself?” Mark Cockshoot [MC] We have to look at more cloud services. It’s simple really – if someone will do it for you, why should you do it yourself? We’ve got an aging telephone system and I’m really interested to see how Lync Online can benefit us when we look to tender for telephone services in the near future. I can see a real benefit to us in moving some more of our services to the cloud.

[JM] Live@edu caters for staff, students and alumni. You’re just using it for students at the moment – do you see it as important to build a long-lasting relationship with your students by allowing them to keep their email accounts after they leave you?

[MC] Yes, very much so. We are looking at what to do with our alumni, but we’re fully behind the idea of a Reading email address for life. We have strong links with our alumni – every year we run very successful campaigns to raise funds and maintain contact. Live@edu would make it much easier to keep those links alive. The University of Reading brand is a strong one, and we want our students to think of their Reading address as their primary address whilst studying, and beyond. “We’re fully behind the idea of a Reading email address for life…” Mark Cockshoot

[JM] What’s been the high point for you in the whole process?

[MC] For me it was definitely when my colleague Chris told me we’d got all our undergraduate users migrated in time for the start of term. We’d met our deadline!

[JM] If you were to do it all again, what would be one thing you’d do differently?

[MC] I’d definitely do it again – for us the biggest stalling point in the process was dealing with our contracts. If we could change one thing it would be to streamline that process so that we could get into the cloud quicker.

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