Microsoft is in the midst of a mass transition of students off its Live@edu email service which will see millions of Australian users migrated to Office 365.
In June 2012, Microsoft announced the launch of Office 365 for Education and the retiring of Live@edu services. The migration project has rolled out around universities and colleges the world over in recent months, with the bulk of activity in Australian institutions reserved for this month.
The University of Technology Sydney, Curtin University, Victoria University, Flinders University, Sydney University, the University of Wollongong and the University of NSW have either recently undergone or are preparing for the Office 365 upgrade.
The free Live@edu service offered Outlook Live, Office Web Apps, Windows Live Messenger and SkyDrive storage and was used by a large number of universities and TAFEs across Australia for student and staff accounts.
There are three flavours of Office 365 for Education, one which remains free and two that are paid subscriptions. The free product offers Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Office Web Apps. The migration from LIve@Edu to Office365 aims to tempt users of the former to consider paid upgrades.
After the upgrade is complete, users are left with two accounts: one to access Office 365 services and another, personal, Windows Live account to access SkyDrive and Messenger.
The migration process is expected to affect around 22 million students across 130 countries and 10,000 institutions and last until September 2013.
Microsoft would not disclose how many users would migrate in Australia.
Since 2009, tertiary institutions in Australia have been offered free email hosting for staff and students from either Microsoft Live@Edu or Google Gmail.
Almost five million students have enrolled in Australia's 40+ universities between then and halfway through 2012.
Seven universities surveyed by iTnews had a combined 873,000 users on the Live@edu service, suggesting the migration impacts email accounts numbering in the millions, given the majority of local universities have opted for Microsoft email.
Microsoft has previously promised the upgrade process would be painless and require little effort on the part of the end-user IT teams.
Where is the data going?
When signing up with Live@edu, university CIOs were given a choice of hosting the service in either the United States or Singapore. Despite its huge scale in Australia and network of 100 such facilities across the globe, Microsoft is yet to host solutions within Australian territory and has not indicated plans to do so.
Peter James, director of IT infrastructure and operations at The University of Technology Sydney, told iTnews the university picked the US to store its data due to percieved similarities between US and Australian privacy law.
UTS has around 280,000 Live@edu accounts, predominantly alumni, with 35,000 of those active students. UTS went through the Office 365 upgrade two weeks ago, choosing to move the data over a weekend.
The university also has its own on-premise data centre, where it stores backups and copies of all Live@edu emails sent between UTS students and staff.
James told iTnews the offshore location of the university’s email data centre was of little concern.
“Where the data is hosted doesn’t really make much difference because for us, over 60 percent of people were forwarding their email elsewhere anyway,” he said.
“There are privacy issues, but the American privacy laws are much the same as ours. I know everybody goes on about the Patriot Act, but we’ve got to remember that if our Federal Government and Police say they want to see our email we have to give it to them, and in America it’s roughly the same.”
The University of Wollongong, which has around 60,000 Live@edu accounts, is currently in the midst of its upgrade and has also chosen to host in the United States.
Most other universities surveyed by iTnews opted for the Singapore solution.
Victoria University has 170,000 accounts on Office 365 as of last Friday, with the data stored in Singapore.
Its acting director for information technology operations Zoran Sugarevski told iTnews the institution had a five-year explicit requirement not to host data in the US.
“For us, the decision is around the retention and storage of our students’ data, and the Singapore proposal and contract offered by Microsoft was better aligned to Australian law,” he said.
The university does not store any of the data locally as the cost of 170,000 accounts would be prohibitive. Sugarevski said it ensured the safety of offshore data by undertaking regular, six-monthly risk assessments of all companies contracted to supply services to the university.
“We have around five to six different systems in the cloud, and we’ve gone through around three or four iterations with Microsoft over the years,” he said.
“Our criteria is around making risk assessment of the organisations; their policies, procedures and practices in the way of managing and securing data, and how they apply archival and destruction processes.
“As long as they’ve got the right policies, practices and procedures, we’re not too concerned.”
Sydney University also stores its data in Microsoft’s Singapore data centre. Its students account for around 50,000 Live@edu accounts, which will move across to Office 365 on July 26. Sydney University doesn’t store any of the email data on-site.
A spokesperson for the university said there were some “mild” concerns with the data being hosted offshore, but said “the benefits of the service outweigh the risk.”
The University of NSW, with 210,000 Office 365 accounts as of its upgrade on July 8, was not given a choice as to where its student and stafff data now resides.
None of the UNSW email data is backed up on-site, nor does the university consider the data’s offshore location in Singapore an issue.
“We do not have specific concerns about storing student email offshore,” said UNSW chief technology officer Denise Black.
“It is not mandatory for our students to use the Microsoft email service, they can direct their email to an email provider of choice, which may be onshore or offshore.”
Flinders University has around 46,000 total and 18,000 Office 365 student and alumni accounts. It completed its upgrade last week.
When it first signed on to Live@edu, it chose Singapore as its data centre owing to concerns with the US Patriot Act. The University's IT team was satisfied with Microsoft’s “very strong” security and privacy policies.
Curtin University’s 57,000 active users will move over to Office 365 as of July 31. Curtin relies solely on Microsoft’s Singapore data centre for email, opting not to store any of the data in its own facilities.
Curtin University CIO Chris Rasmussen told iTnews any concerns around the location and storage of data had been addressed when the university first signed on to Live@edu.
Read on for privacy implications....