VMware Preps Zimbra Email for SMB Channel and SaaS Partners

It has been roughly one year since VMware acquired Zimbra, an open source email platform, from Yahoo. The result: More than 200,000 organizations now rung Zimbra, either on-premise or via SaaS channel partners. So what's next? The answer: A major SMB channel push to win the hearts and minds of legacy Microsoft Exchange Server customers, according to John Robb, senior director of Zimbra marketing and provides at VMware.

Robb describes the Zimbra channel strategy in a TalkinCloud FastChat Video. The effort, outlined during VMware Partner Exchange in Orlando this week, basically has three chapters:

  • The first, in early 2010, was to ensure Zimbra employees, channel partners and customers made a successful transition under the VMware corporate banner. At that time, Robb began asking Zimbra channel partners for a wish list of channel partner program features and offerings for VMware to consider.

  • In chapter two, starting in August 2010, Zimbra transitioned its partner program into the VMware channel partner program. Also, Zimbra began launching software appliances atop VMware.

  • And now, chapter three: Robb says it's time for Zimbra to accelerate its SMB channel effort, with a particular emphasis on transitioning legacy Exchange Server customers over to Zimbra. In particular, the ideal targets are pre-Exchange Server 2007 customers, he adds.

VMware recently launched Zimbra 7, but the innovations won't stop there. Next up is Zimbra 8, which will include a range of mobile enhancements. Among the items up for consideration: A potential Zimbra client written as an iPhone iOS App. At present, most Zimbra-iPhone customers either use their browsers or Apple's own email support to access Zimbra servers. If Zimbra can add real value beyond Apple's iOS offering, Zimbra may introduce a native iPhone App.

SaaS and On-premise Partners

On the channel front, Zimbra continues to leverage hundreds of SaaS partners that promote Zimbra to end customers. In early 2010, Zimbra had 500 hosting partners and 1,000 channel partners. A key point for those channel partners: It sounds like VMware has no desire to host Zimbra directly on its own. Going forward, Robb says VMware's 20,000 channel partners will begin to hear much more about Zimbra --especially as VMware ramps up its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and end-user computing efforts.

During the first day of VMware Partner Exchange keynotes, most of the focus was on VMware's push into cloud computing. But by Day Two, the keynotes shifted to additional opportunities -- including the VDI push and Zimbra's role within the broader VMware corporate strategy. It was the most I had heard about Zimbra since VMware acquired the company.

Big Rivals

Still, competition looms around every corner. Microsoft is preparing Office 365 -- a forthcoming successor to BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), which includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and other SaaS applications managed by Microsoft. But there's a twist to the story: Some channel partners are worried about moving customer data up into Microsoft's cloud. Also, those channel partners want to control end-customer billing, a capability that Microsoft's cloud strategy currently lacks.

As a result, Robb claims, plenty of Microsoft channel partners and hosting partners are now reaching out to VMware for information about Zimbra.

Meanwhile, Zimbra must also contend with Google Apps, which seems to be gaining some momentum within the IT channel. Although some VARs continue to fear Google's channel efforts, roughly 30 of the world's top managed services providers now promote Google Apps to their end-customers, according to the fourth-annual MSPmentor 100 survey results (which will be revealed February 16, 2011).

Competition is everywhere. But Robb sure sounds confident. And for good reason: Back in 2008, Microsoft bid to acquire Yahoo, which owned Zimbra at the time. Had Microsoft acquired Yahoo, the Zimbra platform may have died. Yahoo ultimately rejected Microsoft's bid, and VMware later stepped in to acquire Zimbra.

Fast forward to the present and Zimbra is in growth mode. My best guess: VMware has doubled Zimbra's staff to more than 200 employees since buying the company from Yahoo. Clearly, Robb and Zimbra dodged a potentially fatal bullet back in 2009. And now, it seems like Zimbra is the one taking aim at the competition, particularly Microsoft.

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