QUT migrates 140K accounts to Office 365

QUT is also undergoing due diligence on upgrading staff services from Microsoft Exchange 2007

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has recently migrated around 140,000 student accounts from Microsoft’s Live@edu to Office 365.

As part of a series of articles on new technology in tertiary education, CIO Australia spoke to Chris Bridge, director, Information Technology Services at QUT, and Michael Boyle, associate director, Infrastructure Services at QUT, about how the project is coming along.

Planning for the migration began earlier this year after Microsoft upgraded its Live@edu software to Office 365 for education to include virtual classrooms, online meetings and video and voice chat.

Students have now been using Office 365 for more than a week after the migration was implemented 6 and 7 September, involving around 140,000 accounts – around 40,500 student accounts and additional alumni accounts.

Bridge said the university received around 150 calls for help following the migration, which were mostly about students using the wrong URL to access email and resetting passwords.

“In our environment we have a very strong single sign-on capability and by that I mean that when you log on once, you start to access the whole range of services without the need to re-enter your username and password for different types of applications,” Bridge said.

“With any of the cloud applications that we might elect to utilise in our environment, single sign-on is probably one of the biggest areas and challenges that we had to look at.”

In order to deal with the problem, QUT set up an internal single sign-on facility which required re-pointing addresses from Live@edu to Office 365 and the password portal.

“So rather than going through the Microsoft password change password portal, they could go through a QUT provided portal which did a lot of the hard work for them,” Michael Boyle, associate director, Infrastructure Services at QUT, said.

Bridge said students were able to quickly resolve password problems after being directed to use the QUT password platform.

Student communication

Bridge said the greatest challenge for the project was educating students about the migration and what changes they could expect.

“Microsoft split their product, in some respects, from mail and calendar capabilities. It’s split out from things like Sky drive and Messenger where students would have an institutional or enterprise login, for say email and calendar, but then may use a Microsoft ID for other types of services,” Bridge said.

“As an enterprise [we’ve had] to educate the student base on those changes and help them to make prior preparations so the migration will be as smooth as possible for them.”

Bridge said Microsoft provided some collateral to help educate students about the migration. QUT also developed its own campaign consisting of face-to-face information sessions; social media campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and Yammer; emails to students; and electronic signage around the university’s campuses. QUT also developed short videos about the migration.

While the Office 365 for education suite offers greater capability than the Live@edu software, QUT has opted to leave some of the suite turned off, based on advice from Microsoft, according to Bridge.

He said the university did this because it wanted to make the migration as simple as possible by transferring “like-for-like” functionalities. Bridge said QUT also wants to ensure adequate capabilities are in place for newer functionalities so students have a “good experience”.

QUT is now undergoing due diligence on upgrading staff services from Microsoft Exchange 2007.

Bridge said this includes examining technical changes that will be required but also what the terms and conditions of any software change will be.

“The change process and the integration that’s required would be a lot more significant than it would be for students,” he said.

This includes functionalities to schedule group meetings, book meeting rooms and using shared calendars.

Bridge said QUT is considering both on-premise solutions and cloud-based services for staff and is looking into using Google and Office 365.

The university is a “significant” way through the due diligence, with a decision to be made in the fourth quarter of this year.

“From a customer standpoint, we would expect [Google and Microsoft] to continue to leap frog each other over time as each of them adds new services or features to their product suite. We consider both of them as viable options, but [it’s] also very close,” Bridge said.

Cloud

Bridge said transitioning to the cloud can be challenging and warns that companies and organisations looking to make the transition should consider several issues.

“For QUT or any customer to get to take advantage of [the full product suite], some of those things are more dependent on the vendor’s timeframes and their implementation schedule. [Organisations] need to be working around those types of schedules and timelines rather than having the ability to set them ourselves,” Bridge said.

“A lot more of our services are becoming cloud-based and I would say each time we do it, it’s a case-by-case evaluation and we move to a cloud-based service when it meets a number of criteria.”

This includes examining whether it reduces costs, provides a better service and ultimately, whether it provides a more agile environment.

“You cannot say unilaterally that all of our services will move to the cloud. We’re adopting a posture of case-by-case review on each opportunity,” Bridge said.

Read about Flinders University, the Australian National University, Monash University, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the University of Technology, Sydney, Curtin University, and the University of Sydney.

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