File-sharing program available to UC Berkeley through pilot initiative

UC Berkeley is part of an initiative that plans to make online file storage and management available to students, faculty and staff, the campus announced Tuesday.

As part of a two-year agreement between Internet2 — a group of U.S. research and educational organizations — and a cloud-based file sharing and storage service called Box, the campus will deploy a pilot version to a small group of users this semester and plans to allow broader access to students,  faculty and staff in spring 2012.

UC Berkeley is among other research universities, including Cornell University, Indiana University, the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame, involved in the pilot phase to customize Box’s cloud content managing platform to better match higher education needs.

The pilot phase of the program will not cost the campus any money besides the time staff spend working on it, said Shelton Waggener, associate vice chancellor for information technology at UC Berkeley. Once the pilot phase ends, which is expected to be at the end of the semester, the annual subscription price will be based on the size of the participating institution.

The published subscription price range has not been released yet, but Waggener said the estimates range from $31,500 a year for a small institution — about 10,000 users — to around $395,000 for a larger institution of about 200,000 users. UC Berkeley would get a discount for being part of the pilot program, while other colleges across the country would pay the full rate.

The project is part of an effort by the Productivity Suite of Operational Excellence, a multi-project initiative that has been the source of controversy since it began in 2009, when UC Berkeley became the first campus in the UC system to hire an outside consulting firm to attempt to identify money-saving methods amidst severe budget cuts from the state.

By using Box, students, staff and faculty would be able to share files and collaborate with anyone on the campus, as well as users outside the university, Waggener said. The program would allow,  for example,  researchers to contribute to and edit each other’s work,  simplifying the process of intercampus collaboration.

Another option,  Waggener said, would be to integrate bSpace — UC Berkeley’s online classroom space — into Box.

According to a Wednesday press release from Box, the service will allow users to “securely share, store, and collaborate on content.”

Different groups at the universities involved have the option to customize the program to fit their individual needs and can designate their file-sharing space to followers.

“For example, the band can share all the music they’ll be playing at the next game to all of the followers,” Waggener said.

Waggener added that followers can then collaborate and edit the files. The content within Box is fully encrypted both in transit and in storage.

“Today’s college students, faculty and staff expect the absolute best technology to help them succeed, yet many of the web services available on campus are out of date and difficult to use,” said Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of Box, in a Wednesday press release. “We launched Box from our dorm rooms because we were frustrated with the limited tools available at the time.”

Operational Excellence will launch a Web page for the project in the upcoming weeks.

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