February 18, 2005

Installing cMail, NSIT will block e-mail for three days

While students and faculty at the University complain about the current Webmail system's periodic crashes and its downtime from service, NSIT is preparing a remedy: a brand new e-mail system for campus, dubbed "cMail." In an e-mail sent out to the University community last Wednesday, February 9, NSIT presented cMail as a "major upgrade" from Webmail and plaisance, the University's current e-mail server, that will enhance the reliability and the usage of University e-mail.

Max Trefonidies, manager of the Enterprise Network Systems Administration, described the features of the new system as an improvement on the current system. According to Trefonidies, the basic interface of cMail will be "generic" and "very easy to use." Screenshots of the new interface will be posted on NSIT's support website before its debut on February 28. But before the final transition into cMail, NSIT said that all access to e-mail will be blocked from 9 p.m. February 25 until 7 p.m. on February 27.

Greg Jackson, vice president and chief information officer of the University, said that users of e-mail applications like Eudora and Apple Mail will "only rarely require changes in e-mail clients or configurations" and mail that is currently on the old system will automatically "migrate" to the new system.

"Most users will not need to change any settings," Jackson said. "All mails currently on central servers (in inboxes and IMAP folders) will migrate to the new system automatically. Local folders will be unaffected."

Many new features will be integrated into the new system. For example, if someone is out of town, they will be able to set the new mail system to send "auto replies" to senders to notify them of their whereabouts.

To tackle spam, cMail will use the University's present JunkMail and virus system to filter out unwanted email. cMail does incorporate a web interface for creating and managing server-side filters. According to Trefonidies, users will also be able to "create customized filters that act on incoming mail based on the specialized headers that junk mail inserts." The new system will also have the ability to "move a message into the junk folder" by setting cMail to isolate e-mails that appear to be spam.

The performance and reliability of cMail is expected to be far superior to the current e-mail system. The new system is built specifically to support the bulk of the University's e-mail users. Trefonidies assured that the system was tested extensively for its reliability and is well equipped to handle the millions of e-mails that go through the University system today. "[NSIT] designed a system where almost every component has a backup system that can take over automatically should it fail," Trefonidies said.

Yet Jackson warned that there will be some "unanticipated issues" and believes that some users will experience transitions less seamless than is hoped. Still, he affirmed that NSIT will try to resolve any issues that arise from the introduction of the new system.

Trefonidies did not see any data loss possibilities, but is working with NSIT to smooth out the process for the University community. Jackson recommended erring on the side of caution. "I never speak in absolutes, but we should not experience any data loss," he said. "As a precaution I do recommend that the users back up any important data in their accounts."