Zimbra Launching Partner Program
Zimbra, the open source email provider owned by Yahoo, plans to launch a formalized partner program in the next few weeks or so. More than 700 partners already sell or host Zimbra’s software, which is marching toward 50 million paid customers, The VAR Guy hears. But that’s not all. Here’s where Zimbra is heading next in the channel.
First, let’s rewind a bit: Yahoo acquired Zimbra in September 2007. At the time of the deal, The VAR Guy worried that Zimbra would suffocate within Yahoo’s corporate infrastructure. Clearly, our resident blogger was wrong.
Officially, Zimbra says its email system has more than 60,000 customers and 41 million licensed/paid users. But sources say the figure is pushing fast toward 50 million (Note: Zimbra declines to say if 50 million paid users is a near-term goal).
In 2008, roughly 50 percent of Zimbra sales involved channel partners. Now, that figure is closer to 70 percent, according to Andy Pflaum, VP of business development at Zimbra.
Even without a formal partner program in place, Zimbra was ranked No. 6 in The VAR Guy’s Open Source 50 report, which tracks the most promising open source companies working within the IT channel.
Getting the Message Out
But Zimbra isn’t resting on its laurels. During a chat earlier today, Pflaum gave The VAR Guy a sneak peek at Zimbra’s imminent partner program launch. It will include:
- Gold- and Silver-level tiers. Gold partners will receive enhanced price margins and deal registration, while silver-tier partners will be more of the entry-level assortment.
- A Partner Advisory Board, plus a potential partner conference. Pflaum notes that several open source companies have successfully hosted partner conferences in recent months. And Zimbra seems to be eager to repeat that success with its own channel business.
- A close, ongoing relationship with the Open Source Channel Alliance. The OSCA includes Red Hat, Synnex and nine independent software vendors (ISVs) that will work closely with Synnex’s 15,000 resellers. The VAR Guy has been upbeat about the OSCA, but the alliance has its share of skeptics.
Leaving SaaS to Partners
Now here’s the biggest potential twist of all: Zimbra has no plans to host its email for customers. That’s right, Zimbra is leaving the software as a service (SaaS) market to its 700 partners. (Zimbra rival Open-Xchange also has no plans to directly offer SaaS).
Translation: Zimbra and Open-Xchange are avoiding the “coopetition” challenges that occasionally undermine SaaS and managed services efforts from Dell, Microsoft and other big IT vendors that are exploring the on-demand world.
Still, Pflaum is quick to concede that Zimbra’s channel approach also has its share of challenges. In particular, Zimbra wants to make sure it’s recommending the best, most qualified partners to customers. But occasionally, it’s difficult to vet out all of those partners, Pflaum said.
The VAR Guy will be watching to see how Zimbra’s partner mix evolves once the company formalizes its channel program.