Creig P. Sherburne
Atascadero Unified School District is saving money and making improvements by changing the way employees send and receive email.
Previously, the district licensed Groupwise, an email and computer networking system from Novell, but on July 18, the plug gets pulled on that system and the district will move to Google for email and Microsoft for networking.
Google is a multinational Internet search company — many people use it daily from cell phones, tablets and computers.
Gmail and its Google Calendar are the primary Google services AUSD will use, but other free services are available.
Google’s email service, Gmail, is used by millions of people across the United States and abroad. Because Gmail is accessible through a web browser, anybody can view his or her email and calendar on any Internet-connected computer. Also, no software need be installed to access the services.
Gmail is a free service that pays for itself with discrete ads. Previously, AUSD’s email system was handled in house by Director of Technology Candy Smet and her staff, using equipment the district owns and maintains.
Smet said making the switch to Google for the district’s email and calendar needs frees up physical computer equipment which will be repurposed. And because Google handles the email instead of the district, the change cuts down on in-house maintenance costs.
To make the switchover as seamless as possible, Smet said she hired a Google-certified trainer to teach the systems to district employees over three days and will likely hold another training day later on.
“I was shocked at how well the training days were received,” Smet said. “We had teachers that really aren’t techy that came out of there telling others about it. Teachers just glowing and seeing what they could do with their students.”
One glowing person was Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Stacey Philips.
“The calendaring aspect is the biggest thing. The rescheduler will automatically tell you if people attending a meeting have the new time available,” Philips said. “That and it’s essentially free.”
In addition to email and calendar functions, AUSD employees also have Google Docs — an online Microsoft Office competitor — available as part of the package. Like its email counterparts, a major advantage of Google Docs is that documents are stored online and accessed in a web browser such as Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer, meaning a user can access any of their documents at any Internet-connected computer.
Once complete, all AUSD employees email address will be in the form of [firstname][lastname]@atasusd.org.
Smet said there are no plans to remove Microsoft Office from school computers at this time.
All of Google’s email, calendaring and docs services are available for free to anybody who wants to sign up at www.gmail.com — not just school employees.
Beside moving email and calendaring services to Google, the district is migrating its server software and networking infrastructure from Novell to a Microsoft solution.
A change, Smet said, that will result in antiquated servers being removed from school sites and replaced with “much, much smaller” routers that require less power and less maintenance.
The pricing structure Microsoft has is quite a bit different from Novell’s and it is there that most of the cost savings comes in.
“Microsoft’s [software package] cost $4,000,” Smet said. “Not per year. Once.”
That’s where the $12,000 savings comes from, but Smet said it does not take into account her staff’s time doing maintenance, nor does it take power consumption into account.
And, she added, the Microsoft software package was paid for with a grant.
She did stress that the student information system, Aires, will not be changing in the foreseeable future.
“We haven’t lost anything,” she said. “Everything is better, and it costs less. That’s the upside to a budget crisis, I guess.”
For more information, call the district’s technology office at 462-4280.