Aug 03 2022

What Is Google Workspace for Education?

Higher ed institutions can incorporate a single suite of integrated tools including email, storage, learning management and collaboration.

The University of Hawai‘i was looking for something new.

More than 10 years ago, IT administrators at the sprawling public university were hosting their own email server, provisioning on-premises and running into increasing storage demands from a community of between 75,000 and 100,000 users, according to Garret Yoshimi, the university’s vice president for IT and CIO.

To ease the IT burden internally, UH decided to take what was, at the time, a somewhat unprecedented step: It became one of the first universities in the country to contract with Google and take large chunks of its operation — including email and storage — into the cloud with a service that, at the time, came to it free of charge.

Fast-forward to 2022: UH is still a Google partner, using some of the free services offered by Google Workspace for Education (formerly called G Suite for Education) and some at its now paid tier, and the university been joined by scores of higher education institutions around the world using the broad suite of tools Google offers.

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Along the way, the Google suite has evolved as has its relationship with higher education institutions like UH. One of those evolutions came in 2021, when Google announced it would be imposing storage limits on users for the first time, including higher education institutions. Colleges and universities now have 100 terabytes of pooled storage among their users, a number that doesn’t match demand at a place like UH. Still, after conversations with Google and internally, Yoshimi says the decision to stay with Google is a sensible one.

“We do understand that if we had to do this internally, it’s a heavy lift,” he says. “We don’t want to go back there. We were there before, a bunch of us doing our email and storage. If the number is reasonable, then it totally makes sense for us to stay with Google and not have to flip this stuff back to on-prem.”

So, what is Google Workspace for Education, what makes it a value, and what applications, storage and security features does it offer? Here’s a closer look.

READ MORE: What efficiencies can tech consolidation bring to higher ed?

What’s Included with Google Workspace for Education in Higher Ed?

Every tier of Google Workspace for Education, including the free Fundamentals tier, is made up of 15 Google applications including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Classroom, Jamboard, Drive, Meet and more. Additional security and analytics features are introduced at the Education Standard tier. The Teaching and Learning tier includes additional functionality like polls and breakout rooms on the Meet video platform. The premium Education Plus tier adds on more security features and learning tools.

At UH, administrators have decided to use a combination of offerings. All university users have access to the Fundamentals tier and full suite of applications. Faculty and staff, meanwhile, are signed up at the Education Plus level.

The tools all interact seamlessly and match much, if not all, of what students have been using before they reach a higher education institution, as Google platforms are the norm in K–12 schools.

Google’s tools are also, for the most part, able to integrate with other platforms, like Microsoft, which Yoshimi says is still widely used at UH.

“We’re not 100 percent Google tools by any stretch of the imagination; we do a bunch of other stuff,” he says. “One of the good things is, over time, they’ve made improvements to the product. I won’t say it’s 100 percent feature-compatible now, but it’s pretty close.”

What to Know About Google Workspace for Education’s Storage Limits

Google’s storage limit (100TB) may seem like a lot, Yoshimi says, but when he and others dug into the storage needs at the UH, it was far from sufficient. Yoshimi estimates the university is currently storing a little under 2 petabytes (2,000TB) of data.

Garret Yoshimi
None of us are interested in going back to the ‘we do everything on-prem’ days. It’s just not how it works anymore.”

Garret Yoshimi Vice President for IT and CIO, University of Hawai‘i

In response, Yoshimi says, UH and dozens of other institutions banded together to approach Google and discuss their concerns.

“They were really good about meeting us at the table and committing to help us figure it out,” he says. “We are continuing in conversations with Google about what happens when we need five more petabytes on the storage side, which is getting to be more and more of a requirement for large research institutions.”

Among the solutions the group has come up with, according to Yoshimi, is a runway for when the storage quotas become hard quotas and an agreement to work together with universities as they try to find alternate storage options, including purchasing cloud storage through a platform like Google Cloud.

“None of us are interested in going back to the ‘we do everything on-prem’ days. It’s just not how it works anymore,” says Yoshimi. “First, the economics don’t work, and you also tie up valuable technical resources that we have a need for in other places.”

LEARN MORE: 5 security myths about Google Workspace for Education.

Is Google Workspace for Education FERPA-Compliant and Secure?

Among the many changes Google has made to the Google Workspace for Education suite over the years, Yoshimi says, the available security features have stood out to his team with “a lot of good capabilities.” And he says his team has had no concerns about compliance with any government regulations, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

“With FERPA and other acronyms that the various state and federal statutes impose on us, a big part of that is the applications that sit on top, and our policies and procedures sit on top of those,” says Yoshimi. “With the Google platform, we’re pretty comfortable in terms of compliance in those spaces.”

Security, meanwhile, has been a focus of the Google Workspace for Education suite in recent years, as cyberattacks on colleges and universities have been on the rise.

Those security features include Google Workspace for Education’s security center dashboard, available only at the paid tiers, and the ability to intercept malicious emails through the Google Security Sandbox.

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