Open-Xchange builds anti Oracle stack after server M&A splurge

DIY Skype maker chomps up mail and DNS duo

Suitcase bulging with cash

Open-Xchange, a maker of web apps that some of the biggest telcos and hosts rebrand as their own, has bought up open-source mailserver firm Dovecot and DNS server outfit PowerDNS.

There are lots of possible reasons for this burst of activity, the most obvious being Open-Xchange's desire to offer its service provider customers a fuller stack that can wean them off the likes of Oracle on the backend.

As for Dovecot and PowerDNS, both have loads of adoption through their widespread inclusion in Linux – but both also have very small teams that can benefit from Open-Xchange's relative heft when it comes to selling professional support.

However, perhaps the most intriguing driver for the lovefest is the desire of all involved to improve the usability of PGP-based comms encryption by driving it down into the stack and using DNSSEC – the DNS record authentication system that's rolling out far too slowly – to support key directories.

You'd be forgiven for never having heard of Open-Xchange, despite the fact that it serves around 130 million commercial seats through mainly European customers such as Ziggo and United Internet, which is also an investor.

The company provides a suite of open-source webmail, collaboration and communications apps under a dual-licensing model, so that telcos and hosting companies can offer – with professional support – something to rival the likes of Skype, Dropbox and Google Apps.

Yet the company is eager to offer more. As Open-Xchange chief Rafael Laguna tells it, a lot of these service providers are keen to sort out a new backend to go with their shiny new app suites. The company has been partnering with Dovecot for a few years in order to provide such a bundle.

Dutch ISP Ziggo, for example, wanted a new application suite for email but also a new backend because they were on an Oracle system. They tried Openwave but ended up opting for an Open-Xchange-plus-Dovecot stack for 3.5 million users.

There's a certain amount of overlap between the two companies' customer bases (including one of the largest European telcos, which goes unnamed for now), but now they're formalising their collaboration in order to create more. For example, Deutsche Telekom uses Dovecot (and PowerDNS) on the backend but its own home-grown apps on top – the German giant can now no doubt expect to have Open-Xchange furiously pitching its OX App Suite.

"We've had quite a few customers in past who built their own email backend or used any of the large commercial backends like Oracle or Openwave or Critical Path," Laguna said. "There's room for Dovecot to grow its user base."

As for PowerDNS, the overlap is pretty much pervasive. According to Laguna, all Open-Xchange customers that are in the ISP or domain business, or who are deploying DNSSEC infrastructure, use PowerDNS. So from Open-Xchange's perspective, the merger is partly driven by the need to have that infrastructure up and running at all times.

"These deployments are critical components to the overall quality of the service providers," Laguna said. "If it goes down, the whole service goes down…. When we put out a platform it's very important that the whole platform is available."

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