Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, networking, open source, and cloud computing

VMware, Zimbra, and Why I'm Not an Analyst

The rumors are swirling that VMware is going to buy Zimbra, an open source e-mail platform currently owned by Yahoo. You’ve probably all read the various news articles about the rumors and the events leading up to the rumored acquisition, so I won’t bother you with them again.

Yesterday on Twitter, I mentioned that the Zimbra acquisition didn’t quite make sense to me. I wasn’t the only one; several others mentioned it, too. That sparked a great discussion with Chris Wolf of the Burton Group (really sharp guy, by the way). His comments caused me to look at the purported acquisition in a different light where it starts to make a bit more sense. The discussion reminded me why I’m not an analyst: sometimes I don’t take a broad enough view. (It’s something I’ll work on improving.)

Most people look at the Zimbra acquisition (assuming that the rumor is accurate and it really does happen) and immediately recognize the intent to compete against Microsoft Exchange. However, if you look at the Zimbra acquisition strictly from the perspective of competing against Microsoft Exchange in the market as it currently exists, you’ll quickly come to the same conclusion that I did: it doesn’t make sense. Get real: lots of companies have tried before and failed. I believe that If VMware were to use Zimbra to compete against Exchange in the traditional corporate messaging market, where Exchange mopped up very worthy competitors like Lotus Notes, VMware would end up a failure like so many others before them. As Chris Wolf pointed out on Twitter, the integration between Exchange and the Microsoft applications is just too great to take them head-on.

However, what if you consider that the market is shifting? There is a greater move toward private clouds running scalable, web-based applications. There is an inclination toward workloads that can run outside of an organization’s data center. There is a shift toward virtual desktops. There is desire and interest in embracing the idea of cloud computing—however you choose to define that—across organizations of many different shapes and sizes. In the light of these market factors, now the Zimbra acquisition starts to make more sense. Yes, VMware will compete against Microsoft with Zimbra, but not using today’s architectures and today’s paradigms. As Chris put it in a Twitter post yesterday (emphasis mine):

@TonyWilburn @scott_lowe - IMO vmware has to redefine the traditional app stack for long term survival; email has to be part of it

In the light of this line of thinking, the acquisition begins to make a bit more sense (again, assuming that it’s actually going to happen). Although VMware has different leadership, and it’s a different market, I do feel that VMware would not be successful taking on Microsoft Exchange without redefining how e-mail platforms—as a key part of the overall application stack—can be provisioned, deployed, and managed in conjunction with VMware’s broader private cloud/public cloud strategy.

So what do you think?

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