Zimbra begins roll out as Spectrum replacement

Owners of Tech e-mail accounts are starting to get acquainted with a new and improved webmail system as Tech is replacing the old Spectrum Webmail client, which has been in use for nearly five years. The new Spectrum service is built on a web client built by Zimbra Inc., an Internet services company which was recently acquired by Yahoo!.

The current Spectrum mail client lags behind the features and functionality of other email systems currently on the market. The new Zimbra-based Spectrum will feature many integrated applications and have a Web 2.0 look and feel. Dragging and dropping messages, right clicking to get further actions and creating contacts directly from within an email are all features the new system will have.

“[The new Spectrum] is much more along the lines of the functionality that you would see in [Microsoft’s] Outlook or [Google’s] Gmail client,“ said Pam Buffington, a research scientist at the Office of Information Technology [OIT].

Migration to the new system has begun in small segments, with more than a thousand accounts having been migrated to the Zimbra-based system after Jan. 2. The opt-in period for all students, faculty and staff with Tech email accounts is currently open.

Those who would like get in line to migrate their mail services to the new Spectrum need to go to www.mail.gatech.edu/signup and follow the instructions there. The website also contains information on the transition.

“Starting in March, we will start initiating migration without sign ups. The opt-in migration will still continue until we retire the current Spectrum infrastructure, but we will also begin migrating people to achieve that goal,“ Buffington said.

On Feb. 18, a test migration will take place to stress test the system. It will also test to see whether all the support infrastructure and support documents are complete and thorough. Any users that are selected to be migrated as part of the test will be notified that they have been chosen for migration.

According to Buffington, employees should consult with their IT support before signing up for migration and students should go though their normal help channels in the support and resource center if they encounter problems.

The current build of the Zimbra webmail system will feature standard email services along with contacts and tasks-integrated applications. The tasks application feature will allow the user to create various task lists or organize tasks by category.

For organizing tasks for classes or study groups, the user can keep track of what they have to do, the percentage of tasks that are completed and they can access information from anywhere.

Other smaller features include being able to sign up for RSS feeds, the ability to change the color scheme and share email folders and task lists among other users if they are all working on a project together. A group email account and other group functions are currently in development.

In addition to the features included in the Zimbra roll out, a calendar application is currently the main feature still in development with the client. The integrated calendar will allow users to keep track of all their scheduled appointments and to be able to follow them in one centralized place.

“We hope to bring [the calendar] in as an opt-in feature sometime this Spring semester,“ Buffington said.

The decision was made to upgrade the email software system after Tech had decided to upgrade the hardware platform that it stood on top of. This means that all of the new Spectrum will operate off of completely new hardware.

“The old infrastructure was aging. It was complex, and it was starting to become slow. Because we were looking at a new hardware infrastructure, we wanted to examine our software needs and requirements at the same time,“ Buffington said.

The goal at the current time is to have all the users of the old Spectrum system moved onto the new system by the beginning of the fall semester and by no later than the end of the year.

Users who may not be using their email accounts after the Summer do not have to worry about going through the process of the migration, because the old Spectrum system will continue to receive support until the end of the summer semester.