Did Yale Postpone Move to Google Apps over China Flap?

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-03-31 Print this article Print

The Yale Daily News scored a nice piece of local info that warrants some speculation about whether Google's recent moves versus China are adversely affecting its collaboration software business.

Apparently, the Ivy League school has decided to postpone a move from the Horde Webmail service to Google Apps for Education, the suite of e-mail, word processing and other apps tailored for university students and faculty.

There is a lot of politics involved in this potential switch. A committee formed to discuss the move believed the school's IT group had made the decision to "move to Gmail too quickly and without University approval."

This is somewhat interesting considering the platform is free and easy to implement. Sign up for it, migrate the legacy data to Google's servers and you're basically done.

Okay, so that's oversimplifying it, but it seems as though the hang-up happened because the data is stored on Google's servers, which is how this crazy thing called cloud computing works.

Nonetheless, computer science professor Michael Fischer said people were concerned about the technological risks and downsides of moving to the cloud (Google Apps outages are infrequent, but tend to be infamous), not to mention "ideological issues."

Actually, the article paints Yale's administration as patently paranoid:

But even if all data were kept on American soil, Google's size and visibility as a company makes it more susceptible to attack from individuals, ranging from hackers to company insiders.

This is a fair concern of any company mulling a first-time move to the cloud. After years of on-premises stuff, it's natural to be a little suspicious of ceding control to an external organization. But here's where it gets rich, and I've bolded the more ridiculous parts:

Under the proposed switch, Yale might lose control over its data or could seem to endorse Google corporate policy and the large carbon footprint left by the company's massive data centers.

Uh, that's what the cloud is all about, entrusting data to a company. And if Yale is so concerned about Google's data centers, maybe it should stay in-house, or go back to snail mail 100 percent.

With Yale's administration talking up security concerns, I have to wonder whether this "delay" has anything to do with Google's ongoing flap with China over the cyber-attack in which users' Gmail accounts were being accessed on the sly (though not so sly, ultimately).

I reached out to Yale, but haven't heard back yet.

While Google assured everyone Gmail accounts were accessed through malware and phishing scams and not through its own servers, perhaps Yale is scared that dissidents will infiltrate Google servers and access its students' and faculty's Gmail accounts.

The hack by alleged Chinese perpetrators on alleged human rights activists is disconcerting from a security standpoint, sure. Yale is definitely falling on the cautious side of the fence.

Yale might want to check with its Ivy League rivals Cornell and Brown University, or any of the 7 million students and faculty at thousands of universities worldwide currently using Google Apps. Many others are mulling it, according to this study. (PDF)

I wonder if they are sweating this? I doubt it. I haven't heard of any schools or businesses jumping ship to go back to Exchange or Lotus Notes. If I hear back from Yale, I'll write a piece for eWEEK, with comment from Yale officials and Google.

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