In the September 2015 ITS Update, CTO Janet Scannell shared that a campus-wide team was evaluating Google Apps vs Microsoft Office 365 as a replacement for Zimbra. Since then, over 100 staff, faculty and students have spent nearly 500 hours evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of these email and calendaring products and related cloud storage services.

Through this process, we were able to determine that both of these products would meet basic email and calendaring needs and identified three significant reasons to select Google.

  • First, it is a natural extension of the campus’s significant use of the Google environment and an endorsement of the academic innovations in the Google suite.
  • Second, it avoids adding an additional document storage environment (OneDrive) and the tenuous compatibility between Microsoft and Apple products.
  • And third, it simplifies collaboration with St. Olaf for academic sharing and enhances our efficiency in providing technology support of communication and security services.

It was clear during our research that the Microsoft Office suite, and the Outlook mail client, serve very important roles at Carleton. We intend to continue providing those products and to leverage new Microsoft innovations as appropriate. Based on our testing and our conversations with other schools who are currently running Outlook with Gmail, we anticipate that it will be a very similar user experience in terms of stability and functionality to what Outlook users have currently with Zimbra. The same is true for Apple Mail and tablet/mobile applications.


Our goal is to move the community in three groups, with an early transition of academic departments on June 9, rising students on June 23 and staff and the rest of our community on July 7. If you would like to learn more about the evaluation process, you are welcome to read the report available online. We have also created a page of Frequently Asked Questions, including a summary of new features in Gmail and a few features that we lose in the move away from Zimbra. We will continue to add to this document, and we will, of course, be offering opportunities for training and for learning new practices. Please look for regular communications and opportunities to participate over the coming months. 

Cloud Storage  

Over the past year, ITS has also been considering the services we offer for storing files and the existing grassroots adoption of Dropbox. This is a good moment to purchase a College license of Dropbox for use by faculty and staff as a replacement for COLLAB, with easier file sharing and ubiquitous access. While the Dropbox service will likely be turned on this spring, the timing of file migrations needs further discussion, as does the future of the “Protected” and “Courses” shares. There are no immediate plans to eliminate either of those environments.

A Campus Process

The introduction of both a new email & calendaring service and a new cloud storage platform will give us all an opportunity to reflect on our practices and to embrace more effective approaches, e.g. the sharing of links to file and folders in lieu of emailing a series of attachments. 

Philosophically, these recommendations align with the trend for IT departments to serve as integrators and advisors in an evolving world where users and departments have become more empowered with cloud-based information technologies. We appreciate the broad partnership that supported this evaluation and look forward to a similar approach with the implementation.