2020 September 4 - SSCF service changes - Outlook, Gmail, boombox, Remote Desktop, Crashplan

From: Tom Guptill Russo <tgpt@ucsd.edu>

Subject: SSCF service changes - Outlook, Gmail, boombox, Remote Desktop, Crashplan

Date: September 4, 2020

Quick summary of some big changes:

We are:

  • Ending support for desktop Outlook/Mac Mail applications in favor of the web-based client.

  • Migrating most email/calendaring to Google

  • Retiring the boombox/beatbox file servers

  • Ending the divisional Crashplan backup service.

  • Ending support for "Remote Desktop" access to non-research desktop PCs.


The campus is under severe budget pressure as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic. This has resulted in significant cuts to core operating funds, a situation which is likely to get worse before it gets better. One side effect of this is a reduction in the staffing available to provide basic support to our customers.

Given the number of frontline support people we have available and the budget prospects for next year we're forced to look for ways to cut things that require a large amount of support and don't significantly improve our ability to support the campus' mission and goals, while focusing our efforts on things that directly benefit our teaching, research, and outreach missions.

Starting today, we are making some significant changes to the way we support email and calendaring and are accelerating the retirement of our Windows-based file servers and the Crashplan backup system.

I realize that these changes are all coming in the midst of a pandemic and at a time of great change in campus systems due to ESR. Unfortunately given the circumstances we need to make these changes while we still have the necessary staff and to avoid spending on upcoming hardware and software renewals.

Email/calendaring applications:

A very large share of our support requests are related to email clients, in particular the desktop versions of Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail.

Effective today, SSCF is ending support for desktop email programs. With a few very specific exceptions, from now on we will only support the web-based interfaces to the campus email system. This means:

http://gmail.ucsd.edu if you use Google email/calendaring

https://office.ucsd.edu/ if you use Microsoft for email/calendaring

We will still support the standard email clients built into most phones and tablets.

Migration to the Google platform for email/calendaring:

Even ignoring the client issue, supporting the Google/Gmail platform requires less labor than the Microsoft one, and for several years we have been provisioning most new faculty in Gmail and moving some early adopter department business offices over as well.

Throughout the rest of the year we will begin migrating remaining business and academic users from Office 365 to Gmail, with the exception of a few users with specific requirements (mostly involving regular travel to China or other countries where access to Google services is restricted).

Note that this will not prevent you from using Microsoft Office, OneDrive, or the other Microsoft services other than email and calendaring.

We realize that there are some of you who prefer the Microsoft product (and in fact other than the clunky search feature I prefer the Microsoft web interface over the Google one), but given the circumstances we no longer have the luxury to support multiple email systems and the interaction between them.

Windows file servers: boombox/beatbox:

We will continue our work to phase out our Windows-based file servers (primarily "boombox/beatbox") with an eye toward completing this process by the end of 2020. The majority of the data currently stored on these shares will be moved to Google shared drives (accessible on your local machine using the "Drive File Stream" app), though there may be some unusual cases that require alternate solutions - we will work with you as these come up.

Crashplan backups:

A small number of users still take advantage of Crashplan to back up their laptop/desktop systems. This system is expensive to license and maintain, and is also labor-intensive to manage. It is possible that the campus may begin offering a replacement service, but in the meantime critical data can be stored in the standard 5tb storage allocation granted to all faculty (which is already backed up using other mechanisms) or stored in Google Drive or OneDrive. If you are currently using Crashplan we'll be reaching out to you directly to coordinate your migration to another solution.

Remote desktop access:

In some departments it was common for people who have an occasional need to telecommute to use a personal device to access their office desktop via RDP.

One difficulty with this is that it turns the desktop machine into a "server" - it's a desktop-class machine sitting in an empty office, and if it happens to go to sleep or drop off the network it's an immediate crisis for the person working from home. We don't have sufficient staffing to scale this across hundreds of customers, especially now that the machine is sitting in a locked office on a campus none of us are at.

The second problem is that we have no way to protect the "endpoint" system the customer is using - if this machine has a keylogger or spyware installed, the VPN does not protect UCSD's data.

Due to the difficulty of securing these remote devices and the disruption caused when the office desktop is not available we were already in the process of phasing this practice out. While the requirement to rapidly shift to work-from-home caused us to delay this, by the end of the year we plan to end this practice and require that all business office staff use a UC-provided computer while working from home.


I understand that some of these changes may be disruptive, but under the circumstances we need to focus our efforts on direct support of UCSD's mission. As always, please get in touch with me if you have any questions or concerns.



Tom Guptill Russo

IT Director, Arts & Humanities Dean's Office

Director, Social Sciences Computing Facility

University of California, San Diego