Yahoo's Zimbra reaches for the cloud

Yahoo's Zimbra, the provider of a communications and collaboration suite that rivals Microsoft's Office and Outlook/Exchange, will make its cloud computing debut on Tuesday.

Yahoo's Zimbra, the provider of a communications and collaboration suite that rivals Microsoft's Office and Outlook/Exchange, will make its cloud-computing debut on Tuesday.

Zimbra has so far relied entirely on third-party hosting partners to offer the SaaS (software-as-a-service) version of its suite.

However, it is now taking advantage of Yahoo's data centers to become a hosting provider for customers in the education market that want to access the suite on demand.

Most of the about 400 educational institutions that use the Zimbra suite have it installed on their own premises, said John Robb, vice president of product marketing and product management.

The reason is a combination of universities traditionally wanting to keep the Zimbra software on their own servers for data security and privacy reasons, coupled with little outreach from the hosting partners towards the education market, he said.

However, demand for SaaS applications is picking up among educational institutions, so Zimbra saw an opportunity to offer this option to schools and universities, Robb said.

The Zimbra-hosted option isn´t available to business customers outside of the education market, where the vendor continues to rely 100 percent on its partners, he said.

The move by Zimbra is consistent with the strategy of its parent company Yahoo, which in June announced its plans to create its Cloud Computing & Data Infrastructure Group and in July teamed up with Intel and HP to form cloud-computing labs.

Zimbra planned to become a host for on-demand versions of its suite, the company's co-founder and CEO Satish Dharmaraj told IDG News Service in September 2007, days after Yahoo bought his company.

The price of the hosted suite for students and alumni is US$2 per year per mailbox without advertising, or free with advertising. This includes the Zimbra Desktop component for working without an Internet connection; open APIs for IT system customization and integration; and disaster recovery backups. The paid option also adds synchronization capabilities for iPhones, 99.9 percent uptime guarantee and phone support. By comparison, the traditional on-premise deployments cost $1.50 per mailbox per year.

For faculty, the price of the on-demand option is $35 per year per mailbox and includes other features like synchronization with Outlook and BlackBerry devices. If schools install Zimbra on their own servers, faculty accounts cost $8 per year per mailbox.

Kansas State University is an early adopter of the Zimbra hosted suite, signing up for 30,000 student, faculty and staff accounts, according to the vendor.

Since the Yahoo acquisition in September 2007, Zimbra has doubled its installed base to about 20 million mailboxes. It has now more than 30,000 customers in more than 80 countries.

Asked whether Yahoo´s plan to lay off about 1,500 employees -- 10 percent of its staff -- before the end of the year will affect Zimbra, a Yahoo spokeswoman said this via e-mail: "We are approaching these cost reductions strategically, taking care to balance identifying opportunities for efficiency with maintaining the proper investment levels in our key priorities. While we have identified an overall global goal for reducing our costs, specific decisions about impact have not yet been made."

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