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Office 365 for students

On Monday, undergraduate and taught postgraduate students returning for the new semester were greeted with a new e-mail service.  Using Microsoft's cloud-based system, Office 365, this new service gives students a modern web interface and a maximum mailbox size of 25GB each.

The service also provides a new student e-diary. In due course, this will become an important source of information, as further projects will automatically populate students' diaries with personalised timetables and other key appointments. 

In addition, students also have access to web versions of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel and OneNote; and space to create a personal web site. These are currently not explicitly supported by IS; we are simply giving students access to this functionality for them to use if they wish.

A lot of work went into this move.  Last semester we moved research postgraduate students onto the staff e-mail systems, as feedback from the schools showed that this was the option preferred by a significant majority.  Infrastructure was set up to federate our Active Directory credentials to Office 365 and to route all mail via the University's mail routers.  Tools and strategies were tested for migrating students' existing mail, with mail migration happening behind the scenes since October.

There were hiccups along the way.  Despite a wide consultation to choose the best (or least worst) date to make the move, there a few staff were still caught out and unhappy about the timing.  Also, at one point before Christmas we were quite worried about the time being taken to migrate the mailboxes, until we discovered that the poor performance was caused by an unnecessary virus checker on the migration servers. 

The actual transition seems to have gone very smoothly for the vast majority of people.  Yesterday we had nearly 18,000 unique logins.  On the first day, we had only about 50 support calls, most referring to the same problem which we quickly fixed.  Yesterday, we discovered a cohort of visiting students who had not been migrated across, which we will sort out tomorrow.  While any oversights are regrettable, these are small numbers compared to the overall number of students.

The big question, of course, is whether the students like the new service.  Our service and support staff are keeping a close eye on this.  The informal feedback that I'm hearing third hand is very positive, with far more "likes" than "dislikes".

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