Practically Replacing Microsoft Exchange Server - A 3 Part Series - 2 of 3 - Zimbra Collaboration Suite


Zimbra Collaboration Suite - A Full Exchange Replacement

For a long time, Zimbra has been an ‘almost but not quite’ Exchange alternative - it offered the web GUI and the Outlook compatibility, but not the standards based calendar protocol (CalDAV) or the mobile device support of its big brother. Zimbra’s latest version, which has only been in the wild for a few months, is different.

Client Software Compatibility

Zimbra provides an Outlook connector enabling Windows users to continue using the app they were trained on. All features in outlook down to shared folders and the GAL are provided. On top of this, in its latest 5.0 version, it has introduced wide ranging mobile device support, covering all major smartphones with the exception currently of the iPhone (though a web interface is provided specifically for iPhone users, this isn’t quite the same as total integration). A connector for Apple Sync Services is provided, enabling Mac users to connect the native Address Book and iCal applications to tue server with full functionality and interoperability with their Outlook using counterparts. Zimbra also advertises its mail and calendar facilities in a standard way so that a growing number of standards based clients can also access this information. CalDAV clients such as Apple iCal 3.0 (in MacOS X 10.5), Novell Evolution and Mozilla Sunbird are leading this increase in awareness of a standard calendaring protocol, and Zimbra does well to support it.

Mobile Devices

Most notably, Zimbra 5.0 introduced the dealmaker: support for PalmOS and Windows Mobile smartphones via an installable application, and blackberry support via an extension to BlackBerry’s BES server. This finally puts Zimbra on the radar for corporate deployment.

Support for IT Infrastructure

On top of all this, Zimbra supports largescale clustering and a massive number of clustered storage/backup options available to it due to its reliance on Linux and MacOS X as the server operating system of choice, and integration with Active Directory - IT departments everywhere will be able to work Zimbra into their infrastructure. With the 5.0 release, Zimbra Collaboration Suite meets these criteria and has become the first answer to Microsoft Exchange.

Yahoo Buyout Attempts - The Empire Strikes Back

In September 2007, Zimbra’s parent company was purchased by Yahoo! and Microsoft began making hostile moves toward buying out  Yahoo! shortly thereafter. One has to wonder what Microsoft would have done to Yahoo!’s Zimbra division if this had taken place - it’s unlikely Zimbra would have survived (Microsoft is famous for using phrases like “knife the baby” in its business deals). Had Yahoo! not rejected these attempts, there may not have been any alternative at all. Fortunately, Yahoo! has so far rejected all attempts at being bought by Microsoft. Let’s hope this continues, because I find it doubtful that the US DoJ would notice the destruction of a potential Exchange competitor. That is until… Stay tuned for part 3, which will cover the second of these: Kerio MailServer 6.5.