Out-of-the-box thinking just became easier to achieve thanks to a new cloud-based tool being offered to UI employees.
Box.com, rolled out for all-campus access last week through a partnership between Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services and its sister organizations at UIC, UIS and university administration, allows users to synchronize desktop information with a Web-based storage site and access it from a variety of mobile devices.
"This is a very cool service and available systemwide to anyone who wants to use it," said Michael Corn, the chief privacy and security officer for the campus and the university chief information security officer. "This is the easiest-to-use collaborative service that any of the three campuses has ever offered. It's a very modern tool and it produces a tremendous amount of flexibility."
Corn said the service shares some features with NetFiles, but offers increased security, a better variety of features and greater overall functionality.
"The service is inherently collaborative," he said. "It's seamless and setting it up is very straightforward. Files and folders can be selected to sync to whatever computer or device you're on. It's not clunky or difficult to use in any way."
The Box.com service also features unique applications and serves as a platform for iPad and iPhone applications.
"With this service, my iPad has become a mobile desktop," Corn said. "I can do almost anything with my phone that I would with my computer."
Users posting information to the "cloud" may choose to keep it private or mark a folder "shareable" for general-public access.
Chris Tidrick, UI Extension's IT director, said his unit, which participated in the campus pilot program of Box.com, has had a positive experience using the new service.
"It's easy to use and it offers a whole variety of connectivity options," he said.
Extension was picked for the pilot program because it has more than 100 offices across the state so its employees have for years faced information-sharing challenges.
"Extension staff, by nature, are on the go and out in the field, so they need to be able to access files from anywhere," Tidrick said. "With this service, if I choose, that specific information can be on every computer that I'm going to be in front of."
He said the collaborative nature has already had an effect on current projects and that the number of future uses for the new cloud service is exponential.
"There are a whole lot of uses for Box that we haven't even imagined yet," he said. "I think you're going to see a lot of unique uses; it will be the solution to a lot of issues."
Corn said the idea of generally offering a cloud-based storage and retrieval system to university employees had been in the research stage for two years. He said cost and security had been the two largest issues.
About 1,800 Box.com accounts (accessed with a university NetID and password) have been created following a six-month trial period offered to some campus units. Any employee can now create an account.
Corn said the system was tested and will be maintained by information technology experts from all three campuses. The university was part of a group of "early adopter" campuses that included Carnegie-
Mellon University, Cornell University, Indiana University, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan and University of Notre Dame. He said employees from all of the universities had worked collaboratively since December on security and other details, including ensuring employees could store student information with the service in conjunction with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Faculty and staff members can access the new box cloud service at http://uofi.box.com; students will be permitted to enroll at the beginning of the fall semester. For more information, go to http://web.uillinois.edu/box/support.