VMware relaunches Zimbra, puts it in the Desktop portfolio

In January 2010 VMware announced the acquisition of Zimbra, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) collaboration suite owned by Yahoo! at that time.
Zimbra also includes a free and open source mail client that can be installed on-premises and that works with the mail server or with any other POP3 and IMAP4 server.

As virtualization.info published in the original article, Yahoo! was reportedly trying to sell it since September 2008 without success. VMware bought it going far, far away from its core domain that is hardware virtualization.

Yesterday VMware relaunched the product with the name of Zimbra Collaboration Suite Appliance, claiming a full integration with vSphere. This basically means that Zimbra now comes as an OVF virtual appliance that can be imported inside a vSphere virtual infrastructure and that it is fully supported in “special” configurations like the ones that may involve the HA, vMotion, Storage vMotion and DRS features.

The VMware channel and the vCloud hosting partners can now resell the product. It will be interesting to see how challenging will be for them to sell a mail server to the customers that usually buy hypervisors. Mostly because VMware certainly is an undisputed leader in virtualization but it definitively has no credibility in the PIM market yet.

After seven months a number of customers have yet to figure out why VMware wants to own a mail server, which further increase the competition with Microsoft. 
In fact, even if Zimbra won’t become the core business anytime soon, if VMware wants to return on the investment, the product market share must increase and that must happen at the expense of Exchange Server and other competing products.

It’s unlikely that VMware will stop at the mail server. The company may be trying to build a complete, end-to-end cloud computing stack that includes:

  • the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) layer, with vSphere plus the upcoming vCenter Service Directory (vCSD)
  • the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) layer, with SpringSource tc Server application server and the Spring Java framework
  • the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) layer, with Zimbra and other online products

At the SaaS level owning just the mail server doesn’t make much sense. If the new VMware is trying to become a sort of Microsoft 2.0-in-the-cloud, then the company will try to set up a complete range of solutions. And if this is correct, then VMware may be easily targeting companies like Zoho.

In any case, the expansion plan above means that VMware is going to compete against another big player besides Microsoft: Google.

While at the PaaS level the two companies may collaborate because VMware doesn’t have a complete platform like Google App Engine (GAE), at the SaaS level Zimbra competes with Google Apps, that the search giant is trying to push very hard in the corporate market.

The competition here is not just about prospects, but also about existing customers. The risk is, in fact, that some of the over 30,000 customers currently using Zimbra, may be scared by the VMware’s ownership and decide to migrate elsewhere.
At the end of the day, in fact, VMware core business is not mail and collaboration. There’s no guarantee that VMware won’t drop this new division if it’s underperforming or if the strategy completely changes.
The customers that are considering this scenario and are looking around basically have two choices: go down the on-premises path by adopting Exchange or similar solutions, or embrace the cloud by adopting Google App or similar solutions. But Exchange is definitively more expensive than Zimbra, while Google App may be considered cheaper since there are no infrastructure costs.

The most curious thing is that VMware just placed Zimbra in its desktop virtualization portfolio, along with the VDI connection broker View and the application virtualization platform ThinApp:


It would be helpful if VMware would explain the whole strategy in details, rather than just keep saying that cloud computing is the way to go. Hopefully we’ll have some answers at the upcoming VMworld conference.
Meanwhile here’s a theory:

…If the vendor [VMware] can provide an out-of-the-box infrastructure for IaaS/PaaS/SaaS cloud computing, SaaS vendors adopting it can lower the cost of designing their data centers, and most of all they can offer on-premises versions of their products more easily.

Such out-of-the-box infrastructure should have abstraction layers that can be turned on and off on demand to address the needs of different customers: cloud-aware hardware virtualization (vSphere) for those that just want IaaS clouds, cloud-aware application frameworks (Spring) on top of it for those that want PaaS clouds, and white-labeled, cloud-aware web applications (Zimbra, Redis, and others to come) on top of it, for those that want to offer SaaS clouds…