New email system to include chat features

by Sam Rauschenfels | 10/31/11 11:00pm

While all Dartmouth undergraduate students have switched over to Blitz the new Microsoft Outlook-operated email and calendaring system that replaced BlitzMail students have yet to experience the full breadth of the new system, which will include video chat and instant messaging, according to Susan Zaslaw, associate director of administrative computing and project manager for the BlitzMail transition.

The Blitz transition team is currently working on plans for implementing Microsoft Lync, the program that will enable these capabilities, Zaslaw said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

"It's like Skype, that's what I always compare it to," Zaslaw said.

The transition team will implement Lync during Winter 2012, and the remaining elements of Microsoft SharePoint which provides the ability to create shared documents and arrange virtual meetings are scheduled to be unveiled to campus in the "latter half of next year," Zaslaw said.

While some features of the new Blitz system, like video conferencing and desktop screen sharing, will use more bandwidth than the old BlitzMail system, the transition team tested these features extensively and found "nothing alarming" in terms of bandwidth use, Zaslaw said. The larger bandwidth use was not surprising given the amenities of the new email system, and will not be a problem in terms of internet connection, according to Zaslaw. Network use will be monitored carefully with the new system, she said.

Although undergraduates have transitioned to the new Blitz, graduate students at the Thayer School of Engineering have yet to migrate, according to Zaslaw. Third and fourth-year Dartmouth Medical School students are also still on the old system, but will transfer to the Microsoft Outlook platform in November, she said. Some faculty members are also still utilizing BlitzMail while they wait to transition, William Garrity, associate chief information officer and director of academic and campus technology, said.

"Walking around [Baker-Berry Library] at night, you can see students using a whole bunch of interfaces," Garrity said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "You see a lot of different screens, but they're all using the same Blitz mail system."

The Blitz transition team drew from the experiences of migrating members of the Class of 2013 to the new Blitz over Summer term to improve the process for the remaining classes, Zaslaw said. The Blitz transition help center, which was located in the library, served 840 students during its two weeks of operation in the fall, according to Zaslaw.

"It really went as expected," Zaslaw said about the transition process. "We had the typical issues of some students being logged into their accounts during migration. We knew that would happen."

After migrating all of the remaining BlitzMail users to the new system, the old BlitzMail infrastructure will be completely shut down, according to Garrity. Some components of the old system remain in operation to enable the use of Blitz nicknames, Zaslaw said. Once the old system is decommissioned, however, nicknames will be added to the directory of the new Blitz system, which will allow users to search for nicknames in the directory, according to Garrity.

The old system will shut down completely "somewhere between July and September of next year," Zaslaw said.

Students interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed some frustration with the new system, citing difficulty accessing email after the migration.

"I don't think they gave good enough instructions," Chloe Ruiz-Funes '13 said.

Greg Troderman '12 said that although instructions for accessing the new email system made sense to him, he decided to forward his messages to Gmail and rarely uses the new system.

"I have basically gone on [Outlook Web Access] twice," Troderman said.

While Blitz is accessible from the Outlook Web Access website, Troderman said he was frustrated that he would have to purchase a copy of Outlook if he wanted to use the program to access Blitz. Students were able to download the BlitzMail program for free via the Dartmouth website.

"I don't really like Outlook that much anyway," Troderman said.

The Blitz transition team plans to survey campus this week to gain input on the new system and the migration process, Zaslaw said. Student input about the new Blitz system is "really helpful," she said.