I was always a fan of Zimbra, an email solution that combined an open source mail server with a wildly innovative, browser-based client that has all the features of a collaborative document management system. Zimbra, which has a client that can run offline, treats email as the hub of the user's worklife -- and throws in all sorts of XML goodies, including little Zimlet widgets for lightweight integration with other systems.
Founded in 2003, Zimbra (the company) was bought in 2007 by Yahoo, which at the time thought Zimbra could be instrumental in competing with Google apps. Then Yahoo went through the turmoil of the Microsoft takeover bid and CEO switch, and I feared that might be the last I would ever hear of Zimbra. But five months ago, Zimbra was bought by VMware.
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With today's announcement of a Zimbra Collaboration Suite Appliance, VMware might have a bona fide Exchange killer on its hands.
The appliance is an interesting play. Zimbra Collaboration Suite is still available as cloud offering, but the appliance option addresses the large chunk of business customers that remain wary of ceding email to the cloud. Plus, the appliance is intended to reduce switching and ownership costs by making deployment and maintenance a snap. If Zimbra can pull that off, it will certainly have a leg up on Exchange.
The appliance runs vSphere inside, which simplifies high availability, backup, and disaster recovery. Ubuntu runs under the Zimbra Collaboration Suite, but it's essentially embedded and invisible, so no Linux skills are required. The appliance supports up to 1,000 mailboxes, features Active Directory integration, and of course makes migration from Exchange as simple as possible. Direct comparisons are complicated by VMware claims that its appliance solution costs between 35 and 50 percent less than Exchange.