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Lessons learned from Zimbra implementations

Why are universities choosing Zimbra? After talking with a few, I found several reasons.

I was fortunate to be asked to moderate a webinar discussion on Zimbra implementations in US universities yesterday. It was fascinating for me to hear the reasons that organizations like Georgia Tech, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Western Illinois University gave for selecting Zimbra.

From the discussion I gleaned a few interesting takeaways:

  1. Zimbra adoption is primarily driven by its innovation, not its cost. Zimbra may be atypical here, but it was clear from talking with the participants that while cost was important (Zimbra is dramatically more cost effective than Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise, IBM Domino/Lotus Notes), the real driver was Zimbra's innovation. Each participant (as well as several of the audience members, including Carleton College) noted that it was Zimbra's flexibility through Zimlets and its rich AJAX interface, among other things, that drove them to adopt it.

  2. Many users chafe at the thought of a web-based email experience, then embrace the reality. I actually put myself in this camp, too, given my strong preference for fat-client applications. But each of the panelists noted that while their clients worried about using "web mail," post-deployment satisfaction is very high (and growing). Maybe it just takes some of us more time to recognize and appreciate the future.

  3. Zimbra scales very well. None of the participants noted any problems scaling Zimbra, despite scaling to 50,000+ users. I suppose this shouldn't be surprising given that Zimbra was also chosen to serve millions of Comcast mailboxes, but I would have thought the panelists would have had some hiccups when migrating to Zimbra. None, or at least none worth mentioning.

  4. Surprisingly, universities are actively integrating Zimbra with a wide range of third-party applications, including Wikipedia, Moodle, Sakai, proprietary calendars (I believe Oracle's calendar application was mentioned), etc. These particular participants weren't actively integrating Zimbra with VoIP, but it's an important need for my own company, and I'm sure for others. Needless to say, it's very doable with Zimbra.

  5. As a testament to the power of open-source distribution, each of the universities interviewed evaluated Zimbra for 8-12 months before buying from Zimbra. Zimbra's competition offered up white papers and slick salespeople to peddle their (soft)wares. Zimbra gave its code. Universities appreciated the opportunity to dig into the code and make it work before they bought the product.

  6. Open source is an underlying, enabling factor in the universities' decision to buy Zimbra, but open source without a commercial entity behind Zimbra would have been a losing proposition. Each of the panelists indicated that they never would have purchased Zimbra but for the company behind it. Code is important; company support is critical.

All in all, it was a highly interesting session. The net of the discussion? Zimbra wins because of innovative technology, but the benefits of open source (distribution, transparency, third-party integration) are also important.