As part of the Real World with Cloud Services series, we spoke to Doug Herrick, Chief Information Officer for Jefferson Information Technologies at Thomas Jefferson University, about why the university chose to replace its existing on-premises email system with Microsoft Exchange Online through Microsoft Office 365. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Please tell us about Thomas Jefferson University.
Q: Why did you want to manage your messaging and collaboration with cloud technology?
Herrick: Our email system was based on a Mirapoint secure email appliance that we licensed from them and administered on our own hardware for about 8,000 mailboxes. When our Mirapoint contract came to an end in 2010, we had to decide whether to renew the license and refresh the hardware—which would have meant about [US]$500,000 in up-front costs plus $80,000 in annual maintenance—or switch to a new system. We weren’t displeased with Mirapoint, but it didn’t offer all the functionality we wanted. We were looking for a collaborative unified communications and messaging system with robust calendar options. In the past few years, there has been a clear trend in the IT world towards cloud-based solutions, and we could see that they were an increasingly viable option, so we began looking into them.
Q: Why did you choose Exchange Online through Microsoft Office 365 instead of Google Mail?
Herrick: The decision was actually a fairly easy one for us. Although Google Mail has become quite popular, we felt that it really isn’t mature enough yet and doesn’t have the enterprise functionality we need. Also, our faculty and staff are familiar and comfortable with Microsoft products, and many of them were already using Microsoft Outlook as their email client. Microsoft also provides the excellent Outlook Web App for browser-based access. As our client base increasingly accesses email through a range of mobile devices, they expect to be able to access their email from anywhere they can get an Internet connection.
Q: What were the key requirements for the solution?
Herrick: We had one very important requirement that was a key to our decision. Because we have clinical staff using the system, they sometimes need to send protected personal health information by email. For this reason, we needed a solution that met the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) including data storage, security, and privacy. Microsoft was willing to work with us to develop a Business Associates Agreement (BAA) guaranteeing HIPAA compliance, and we weren’t going to get that with Google Mail. We are now the first and largest university with an associated hospital to use Exchange Online with a HIPAA BAA.
Q: What benefits are you experiencing by using through Office 365?
Herrick: By adopting Exchange Online, we have given our staff and faculty what I believe is the leading email system available today, in terms of functionality, integration, and mobility. The response from users has been great—they are very pleased with the features, the mobile access, and the increased mailbox storage that they have now. From the IT point of view, we still have some administrative duties, such as provisioning new mailboxes, but most of the system maintenance is handled by Microsoft in their highly secure data centers. And the cost is also a big benefit. Exchange Online is included in Office 365, and that is saving us $500,000 compared to updating our Mirapoint system, and it has eliminated significant annual maintenance costs. It’s been a win-win solution for us.