Yahoo’s Zimbra Connects the Campus to the Cloud

The Yahoo-owned open source messaging software firm Zimbra announced Tuesday that it’s taking its act into the cloud. Universities and other educational institutions can now access the Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) via Yahoo’s worldwide infrastructure.

Formerly, Zimbra was managed by users on-premise; however, now they can choose a delivery method: on-site, Zimbra hosting or hosting through the company’s local partners.

“Over the last four years we’ve been focused on being the leading open source player in e-mail and calendar. All along we really felt that hosting was key to our overall product offering. We needed to have both a hosted and on-premise solution. Right from the get-go we knew that would be important,” said John Robb, vice president of products and marketing at Zimbra, told LinuxInsider.

A Communication Cloud

Although the Internet landscape is dotted with multiple communication services aimed at individuals and consumers, there are actually relatively few hosted e-mail services for business users, according to Mark Levitt, an analyst at IDC.

“Most hosted e-mail services are designed for consumers and individuals and lack the user interface and features such as group calendaring/scheduling and support for push e-mail to mobile devices that business users expect,” he told the LinuxInsider.

Microsoft’s Exchange and IBM’s Domino dominate the market. The two technology giants recently announced their respective plans to launch their own branded hosted e-mail offerings.

Zimbra initially provided hosted services through some 400 hosting provider partners who offered the company’s solutions in their own markets in more than 50 countries. Zimbra, however, had frequent requests from its educational customers to add something more.

Zimbra’s just-announced hosted solution specifically for the educational market is a key focus area, Robb said. The company plans to roll out similar offerings for other sectors in the future.

Your Host in the Cloud

Zimbra Hosted takes advantage of Yahoo’s extensive IT infrastructure and allows the company to provide users with a service level agreement (SLA) that guarantees 99.9 percent uptime, 24/7 support and built-in disaster recovery features.

Moving its solution to the cloud enables Zimbra’s educational customers to access its communication tools without the costs associated with the additional infrastructure and added resources needed to manage and administer the technology. With Zimbra hosted, users will not need to deploy software upgrades, pay for maintenance or add additional hardware, the company said.

As an open source solution, Zimbra brings users a level of insurance that the product’s destiny will be up to them, explained Robb.

“It provides our customers with control. They can see the product, touch the product and modify it how they see fit. We think open source gives customers a stronger degree of control. Secondly, open source allows you to build a community around it,” he pointed out.

Educational institutions can control the look, feel and brand options, including logo and color scheme of the suite. They can also take advantage of special faculty packages that include enterprise-grade features like Outlook Sync, Apple sync and BlackBerry compatibility. Zimbra offers mobile access over a variety of handsets, such as the iPhone, J2ME-enabled devices and any mobile browser.

It also includes comprehensive group scheduling calendar, native e-mail contacts, synchronization with Outlook 2007, RSS (really simple syndication) and Atom support, maintenance tools, data privacy and protection policies as well as offline access via Zimbra Desktop and the ability to integrate with Internet and intranet data and third-party mash-ups.

The e-mail offering also offers universities an opportunity to boost their hip factor with students, said Levitt.

“Zimbra’s innovative user interface with the ability to create mashups addresses student preferences for cool tools that can be customized and personalized,” he noted.

Battling the 800-Pound Gorillas

Zimbra’s hosted solution for education is available for students, faculty and alumni. Student and alumni editions are priced US$2 per year for each mailbox without advertising. With advertising, the service is free. Members of the faculty will shell out $35 per year for each mailbox.

Pricing, however, may not be the way to beat the heavyweights in this market.

“Microsoft is very aggressively priced, especially when you look at just the Web browser access or at the combined price for Exchange plus Office Communications Server (IM, presence), SharePoint (team workspaces), Office Live Meeting (conferencing). Google is largely free, funded by advertising — not ideal for business or even educational users, except for an optional fee for certain management capabilities,” explained Levitt.

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