Zimbra Helps VMware Gird for Battle with Microsoft

VMware's acquisition of Zimbra brings the virtualization specialist a step closer to providing a varied set of IT services for its growing number of customers. But can VMware take on Microsoft?

VMware's acquisition of Zimbra brings the virtualization specialist a step closer to providing a varied set of IT services for its growing number of customers.

With the agreed-upon acquisition of Zimbra from Yahoo, VMware gains a provider of e-mail and collaboration software provider that boasts a customer base of "over 55 million mailboxes," said a VMware news release Jan. 12. "As an independent Yahoo product division, Zimbra achieved 2009 mailbox growth of 86 percent overall and 165 percent among small and medium business customers."

But what proved to be a not-so-perfect fit for Yahoo may prove to be just what VMware needs as it moves to provide more and more services based around its virtualization offerings.

Tod Nielsen, VMware's chief operating officer, told eWEEK Jan. 13 that the Zimbra addition is just the beginning. "This is a first step of many we will take on a journey to offer a complete set of business services to our customers," Nielsen said. "We are moving up the stack."

Although Nielsen would not specifically discuss what service or application area VMware intends to add next, he acknowledged that "longer-term it's going to come down to us and Microsoft" among the companies equipped provide the broad range of services that VMware CEO Paul Maritz has envisioned the company delivering.

"VMware a couple of years ago was this cute little hypervisor company, and then Paul Maritz came along and looked at how we can play a pivotal role in bringing services to customers on the desktop, the server, the data center and the cloud," Nielsen said.

Maritz was formerly a high-ranking executive at Microsoft, and Nielsen also was an influential executive at the software giant. "We learned a great deal from our time at Microsoft," Nielsen said. Asked if VMware was looking to take on Microsoft directly, Nielsen said: "From my years at Microsoft, [I know that] if I didn't focus on what they're doing now, we would get trounced. We're just taking the same kind of thinking that made us successful [at Microsoft] 10 years ago and applying it here."

Nielsen said he believes VMware can be an "arms provider" for public cloud providers. For instance, "Amazon is a cloud provider and we'd love to sell our infrastructure to them," he said. "And if we can help customers federate with Amazon so much the better."

Zimbra becomes another weapon in VMware's arsenal, as VMware can offer virtual servers upon which the company can offer e-mail and other services for its data center customers.

Nielsen said the first step with Zimbra is to make it available to all of VMware's vCloud partners. He said the company plans to invest in beefing up the Zimbra solution, including adding additional testing resources and increasing scale. "And we'll continue to improve synergies between our virtualization engine and the Zimbra technology."

Moreover, "VMware plans to support existing Zimbra products and open-source efforts while further optimizing Zimbra products for [VMware's] vSphere-based cloud infrastructure, alongside Microsoft, IBM and other messaging and collaboration solutions," the company said in its Jan. 12 news release.