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VMware takes on Google Apps with Zimbra 7

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VMware is ramping up the rhetoric against Google Apps with today's launch of Zimbra 7, the latest iteration of the email and collaboration software the company picked up early last year from Yahoo!

The Zimbra Collaboration Server, as the software is now called, is available for Canonical's Ubuntu, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux, and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server Linux distros as an RPM package. Zimbra also peddled the product through a network of service providers, who deliver it as a service to users, and VMware has continued this practice.

In July last year, VMware worked with Canonical to cook up a hardened version of Ubuntu to support a virtual software appliance version of the Zimbra server. Then it slapped a graphical management interface on it to completely hide the Linux from Zimbra admins. At the same time, the GUI hooked into VMware's vSphere virtualization management tools and Microsoft's Active Directory authentication and file services for Windows and other server platforms.

Zimbra Collaboration Server is a so-called "open core" program, which means the core is open source but extensions to the product that make it worth shelling out some cash for are closed source. Zimbra was initially being positioned as an alternative to Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange combo as well as IBM's Notes/Domino and Novell's GroupWise, but with the Zimbra 7 release, VMware is also positioning hosted and internal versions of the Zimbra package as an alternative to Google Apps, Lotus Live, and other cloudy tools for enterprise collaboration.

According to John Robb, senior director of Zimbra products and marketing at VMware, somewhere around 2 per cent of the commercial email and collaboration market has gone to a cloudy, SaaSy product, and the market analysts that are advising VMware think that it could grow from 2 per cent to maybe 10 per cent in the next two to three years.

"The vast majority of customers are doing email and collaboration themselves," says Robb. "But we are certainly betting that it will go faster, particularly with the 500 partners we have. We believe that cloud-based solutions are part of the future as well as products behind the firewall, and that is why we are betting on both horses."

This time last year, Zimbra had 150,000 customers using the software through hosting providers, and now that number has grown to over 200,000. VMware has over 2,000 customers using the server internally as well, and the combined number of paid mailboxes being managed by Zimbra has grown by 6 million to 66 million.

There are more than 40,000 registered users (up by 25 per cent) on the Zimbra community, and it is hard to say how many of them have downloaded the open source edition of Zimbra, but Robb says that the installed base of email seats could be quite large. El Reg speculates on the back of an envelope that if there is a proportional relationship between commercial and open source users, then the community edition might yield several million additional seats. (Yahoo! is still a big Zimbra user for calendaring, but does not use it for email.)

VMware says that the new Zimbra Collaboration Server 7 is available today, with the Zimbra Collaboration Appliance and the Zimbra Desktop (for working offline) in beta. These remaining two features of the suite will be available before the end of the first quarter. VMware is committed to getting the releases of all three related products out the door at the same time, and that includes version for Windows, Mac, and Linux clients and their various web browsers.

The Zimbra 7 server behind all these products has over 230 new features, says Robb. These range from things as simple as letting end users pull dead emails back out of the cosmic ether even after they have been deleted. (I guess they weren't really deleted then, were they?) The software can automatically suggest the best time for a meeting based on who you invite, and thanks to REST-based access to Zimbra APIs you can set up your calendar to talk to external conference room scheduling applications to suggest the best time and place to meet.

The Zimbra stack also includes a feature called Briefcase, which allows for files to be pushed out to storage clouds and shared by collaborators, and a connector for accessing messages and synching up calendars and address books stored on BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0. There is also a mobile Zimbra client specifically for Apple's iPad. The Zimbra 7 stack includes over 2,000 bug fixes, performance boosts, and scalability improvements.

For internal use, Zimbra Collaboration Server 7 costs $30 per seat with volume discounts. Service providers that use Zimbra set their own prices and make their own deals. ®

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