Zimbra Brings New Age Panache To Messaging, Collaboration


By many accounts, Zimbra entered the wrong business.

The company emerged from stealth mode in November 2005 into the hypercompetitive and largely saturated realm of e-mail and collaboration.

But Zimbra is bringing some New Age panache into an arena where legacy champs IBM and Microsoft have been beating each other silly.

For one thing, Zimbra touts its "Web 2.0" roots as the antithesis of old world e-mail offerings. But it also respects the traditions of its forebears. "We are certainly doing our level best to build an ecosystem. The companies who preceded us in that space—Microsoft most notably—built on partners," said Scott Dietzen, president and CTO of the San Mateo, Calif.-based company.

Bad channel behavior by some of these e-mail incumbents could boost Zimbra's prospects, Dietzen said. "Microsoft is competing more with its partners and getting into hosted Exchange and Office Live. That opens doors for us."

Hosting partners are a big part of Zimbra's strategy. The company claims about 100 such partners. "We target folks who host us as a Software as a Service, small businesses who don't want to run their own collaboration server in-house, and some service providers who offer consumer services," Dietzen told CRN.

Zimbra charges hosting partners between $1.25 and $1.75 per user per month for its mail. End-user pricing averages between $6 and $10—building in some healthy margin.

Zimbra also wants partners to write to its APIs for customization and integration work. The product's open-source and cross-platform roots prove attractive to partners who like to code and customize mail and collaboration.

Gregory Rosenberg, CEO of RICIS, an e-mail specialist in Tinley Park, Ill., likes Zimbra's open-source provenance and the "very reasonable" margins it offers. "The open-source nature of Zimbra allows them to do very serious customization of the product as well as integration with a host of customer or third-party applications," he said.

Zimbra can run on Linux, Windows and even Apple servers, which could prove attractive to customers who want to avoid lock-in to Microsoft's stack. Outlook integration means they can retain the client-side look and feel many users like.

As for the enterprise, Dietzen sees an opportunity at least in one sub-segment— employees who get mail privileges but no access to calendaring and scheduling.
"We have a low price point, we deliver all over the Web, and companies don't have to deploy desktop software," he noted.

Rosenberg lauds the product's slick interface. He says its sweet spot is for customers who get 50 to 150 e-mail messages a day. High-volume power users might be better served elsewhere, he said.

Sixty percent of Zimbra mailboxes are delivered via partners, mostly by hosting partners. The company also is working on a Zimbra appliance that Dietzen expects will be ideal for the VAR channel.