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Zimbra undergoes changes

Bridget Feeney | Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Since spring break, Saint Mary’s students, faculty and staff have encountered more Zimbra outages, as the service experienced sporadic shortages and dysfunction. Similar shortages and minor outages have plagued the College since February.

A major shortage occurred last month when Zimbra functioned unreliably for several days in a row. Once the email system began functioning properly again, the Department of Information Technology sent emails to students and faculty with advice on how to combat slow servers. Recommendations included emptying trash and junk folders regularly, limiting the number of attachments sent in emails and sending messages through Blackboard instead of Zimbra.

Chief Information Officer [CIO] Michael Boehm said working through technical difficulties requires cooperation from everyone.

“We can all do our part by lightening the load on the email server, which can only help with service,” he said.

However, unresponsive servers continue to disrupt communication between students, professors and the College. Junior Annie Root said she recognizes the problems are not easy fixes, but she is frustrated with frequent technical difficulties.

“I understand that Information Technology is working as diligently as possible to fix the problems, but it’s so frustrating to have Zimbra constantly out of service,” she said. “I rely on email to work on group projects and talk with my professors and for work. It’s aggravating to have Zimbra not work and slows my productivity.”

Junior Meghan Feasel said Zimbra use is essential for everyday tasks, especially her job as an employee of the Alumnae Relations office.

“We stay in contact with alumnae through emails. Therefore, our office runs mainly on Zimbra,” she said. “Lately, we haven’t been able to receive any emails. It’s not just frustrating, it’s detrimental.”

In order to address these issues, Boehm said plans are in the works for improving Zimbra service in the immediate future.

“In the short term, Information Technology has contracted with a Zimbra business partner for support, which will include an update to the software and remote monitoring and support,” he said. “This should resolve some of the issues that Zimbra continues to experience.”

Some students have questioned whether Saint Mary’s should switch to another service provider.

“I understand it isn’t an easy fix and the process is probably complicated, but I wish we would get rid of Zimbra and switch to [Google’s email service] Gmail,” Root said. “I think it would significantly improve things.”

Although no email service change has been confirmed, Boehm said a switch could occur sometime in the future. While some students may support the implementation of Gmail, Information Technology is considering other options as part of its long-term goals to improve email services.

“The College is investigating long-term solutions to improve email communication, which includes looking at a vendor other than Zimbra,” Boehm said. “As the CIO, I will lead the evaluation of the email system and the resolution efforts. Gmail is certainly an option.  We are looking at a number of products and vendors.”