Campus prepares for switch to Zimbra e-mail system


K-State will officially begin its university-wide transition to a more organized and interactive e-mail provider — Zimbra — at 6 p.m. May 29.

James Lyall, vice provost of information technology services, said students, faculty and staff have been calling for a more encompassing e-mail system for the past few years — a system that does more than just store mail.

“We’ve really been trying to work with the campus on what they really wanted to see in the next generation of communication collaboration services,” Lyall said. “People were very vocal and very clear that they just didn’t feel like the current e-mail system was meeting their needs, and that they really wanted to see an integrated collaboration environment that would allow some better functionality.”

In order to learn more about the K-State community’s e-mail concerns, Lyall said several “needs analyses” were administered to Webmail users throughout the past two years. These assessments were formed by a 25-member committee concerned with improving K-State’s e-mail/calendaring services.

The analyses were offered in the form of surveys and were a place for users to voice their opinions about Webmail as well as offer suggestions as to what they thought should be offered in a new system.

A majority of these resulting suggestions included Web accessibility — being able to access the program from any Web browser; attachment capabilities — being able to attach files up to 15 megabytes in size; search capabilities — allowing easier search options for both e-mail and calendar functions; and nesting customized folders — the ability to create a folder within a folder with easy accessibility.

“We looked at those providers that we thought were leaders in the market in terms of being able to provide the enterprise-level services that we think is required,” Lyall said. “In doing that and looking at all the information we pooled from the committee and the campus, we really thought that Zimbra was a good solution for the campus.”

Zimbra is a multi-award winning program that offers e-mail, group calendaring, contacts, instant messaging, file storage and Web document management. A company that started in 2003, this service provider offers a lot more than just mail storage.

“Zimbra was the product that met more [campus] needs than any of those other services,” Lyall said.

As of early fall 2008, Lyall said K-State entered what he called a “firm partnership” with the provider. Since then, he and a committee of student, staff and faculty representatives, who form the Zimbra Steering Committee, have worked through technical details to polish the K-State version of the e-mail system.

Effective March 28, 1,600 student, faculty and staff volunteers took part in an early switch and were able to access their e-mail accounts via Zimbra. The purpose of this switch was to offer K-State IT feedback on what needed to be tweaked before the campus-wide switch.

Weston Steimel, sophomore in architectural engineering, and Ryan Bradley, graduate student in software engineering, were among the first group of volunteers.

“Webmail was just kind of limited,” Steimel said. “Obviously with Zimbra, there are a lot more features. You’ve got a lot more you can do with it.”

Both Steimel and Bradley said they found Zimbra easier to use than Webmail in terms of navigation and mobility.

“[Zimbra] has a better user interface, it’s easier to get around and it’s more readable,” Bradley said.

Once users make the switch to Zimbra, they will no longer have access to Webmail, but they will lose little e-mail storage and information. All e-mails, read or unread, saved or in the trash, will be transfered to Zimbra, and the e-mail address — e.g., — will remain the same.

The only drawback to the transition is that contacts will not be stored. However, there is an easy search function within Zimbra that allows users to find any K-Stater’s e-mail address and click it into their contact list instead of having to look it up online.

Bradley said K-State IT has kept him “pretty well informed” during the switch and as a result, has had no problems with the system.

For those who have not made the switch, Lyall said question-and-answer sessions will be available throughout the coming months to help acclimate them to the program before the major transition.

“We’re going to have lots of communication about what [the switch] means to the campus,” Lyall said. “We want to offer as much information as we can and make sure people understand what we’re doing.”