Friday, July 13, 2012

Surviving the move to Google

The University of Michigan is moving its business productivity systems (mail, calendar, among others) to Google this year.  Some university institutes and colleges have already made the move, and others will make the move later this year.  ICPSR and its parent, the Institute for Social Research, will move in August, although about 70 staff at ISR will make the move early.  These "Google Guides" will help others with the transition.

One concept that might be helpful for the move is to distinguish between an email address and email mailbox.

An email address is basically a pointer.  It can point to another email address, or it can point to an email mailbox.  People publish and share their email address with others, and this is the piece of information we use to target a piece of email.

An email mailbox is a place where email lands.  You log in to an email system (Gmail, Exchange, AOL, and many more) with an ID and password, and once there, you can search for messages, read messages, sort, filter, send, and the rest.

The big change at the U-M this year with email is with everyone's email mailbox.  It's changing from some legacy system at the U-M to Gmail.

Below is a typical example of how things work today at ICPSR.  The email address is just a pointer to the U-M enterprise directory entry.  That entry - which ends with - is also just a pointer to another email address ending in  And that email address is the thing that actually points to the email mailbox, which in our case is the ISR Exchange server.  The first diagram below shows the relationship between email addresses and email mailboxes in the current system for my own email:

Contrast that with the image just above that shows the relationships after the move to Google.  There are two main changes.

The first is that the email mailbox now lives in Google Gmail rather than Exchange, and my email software is a web browser rather than Outlook.  This is a very big change.  Some will find it a pleasant change, and others will hate the new system.

The second is that the roles of the and email address have reversed.  The email address is now just a pointer to another email address, and the email address is the one that "points" directly to Gmail.  And, of course, just like before, one can publish or use any of the three addresses, and the mail goes to the same email mailbox.

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