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It’s a classic example of competing interests. Students want access to the latest interactive software applications and plenty of storage space for big data files. As a public institution, NC State wants to reduce expenses. Now, thanks to a partnership with Google, both sides are getting exactly what they want.

The university announced this week that it will deploy the free Google Apps Education Edition as its official university e-mail service for students. In addition to receiving 35 times more storage space for e-mail, students will have access to Google’s suite of popular collaboration tools, including a word processor, chat program, calendar and Web site builder.

“A lot of students are already using these tools to collaborate with classmates, share documents and work on group projects,” said Stan North Martin, director of outreach for the university’s Office of Information Technology. “For example, it’s easy to set up a quick survey in Google Docs to query your classmates on a project. After they reply, the program can automatically pull the data into a spreadsheet so you can organize the results.”

The chat program allows students to communicate by text message or voice and can be used to send files directly from one user to another, like an e-mail attachment is sent, with the click of a mouse. The calendar application can be used for individual or group schedules and can be shared – or not – depending on the level of privacy desired. Some campus organizations, like the Inter-Residence Council, already use Google Calendar to schedule activities and promote events and meetings. Students can subscribe to multiple calendars and then view them separately or as a master calendar.

Google Sites, the Web site generator, gives students an intuitive set of tools for building Web sites, such as online portfolios and blogs.

As an added benefit, students will be able to access these tools using their existing e-mail addresses, which will still carry the tag And now, instead of losing their NC State e-mail addresses when they graduate, students will keep them for life.

“Our e-mail system has been remarkably stable over the years,” says Martin. “But students were constantly requesting additional e-mail storage space. As attachment sizes continue to grow, so does the demand for space.”

With the move to Google Apps, students will have access to seven gigabytes of storage space, far in excess of the 200 megabyte allocation they now receive.

The good news for the university is, of course, the amount of money it will save the taxpayers while increasing services for students. A campus task force organized last year to study the issue conservatively estimates NC State will save $60,000 a year by using Google Apps for student e-mail.

“Outsourcing e-mail is a growing trend in higher education because it enables universities to improve technology services for students while reducing costs,” said Dr. Marc Hoit, NC State’s vice chancellor for information technology.

In fact, the campus task force reviewed hosted e-mail services at several institutions, including UNC Greensboro, UC Davis, Indiana University, University of Virginia, Boston College, Eastern Michigan University and Kansas State University. In addition to Google, the task force looked at e-mail services offered by Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as the existing Cyrus system. The decision to recommend Google came after a year-long evaluation process that included surveys, a focus group, student forum and pilot testing.

Hoit has named an implementation team to plan the roll-out of the new services. The university expects to launch a student beta e-mail service by mid semester and is encouraging students to participate by requesting an invitation on NC State’s Google Web site. The production service will be rolled-out over the coming year.