Yahoo!’s Zimbra Takes Educators Into the Cloud Following this week's Windows Azure announcement by Microsoft, the ball was in the competition's court. And Yahoo! responded with a cloud-related announcement of its own. Yahoo! announced that it will offer the Zimbra Collaboration Suite as a hosted solution for educational institutions. According to Zimbra, over 500 schools are already using Zimbra. This hosted solution is currently available exclusively to .edu's. Who knows -- maybe, if all goes well, the solution will expand its wings beyond the .edu market.Zimbra Collaboration Suite is already integrated (in a self-hosted way) with and allows to transfer client information and correspondence directly from your Salesforce account to Zimbra. Before Yahoo offered this hosted solution, educators had to either deploy Zimbra on their own servers, or use hosting services provided by a network of Zimbra Hosted Service Providers.

Zimbra Collaboration Suite Features

Zimbra lures educators in with 99.9% uptime thanks to Yahoo!’s “world-class” data centers and 24/7 monitoring and support, daily back-ups and disaster recovery. Zimbra’s offering includes shared calendars, word processor, contact manager, online documents authoring, instant messaging, mobility and more. As a cherry on top of all of that, Zimbra offers a hosted e-mail server that can merge mail for users from Microsoft Outlook, Google’s Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and AOL. Faculty and staff get a few extra features for group scheduling and Outlook synchronization. This is not to mention that fine .edu institutions like Stanford University and Georgia Tech already reap the benefits of Zimbra’s on-premises e-mail software. SaaS is touted as a popular option for IT departments looking to cut their budgets and take some of the infrastructure weight off their shoulders. With Zimbra they can choose to have all students, alumni, faculty and staff hosted or chose partial / split deployments such as students/alumni on Zimbra Hosted, and faculty/staff on Zimbra On-Site. Scalability is certainly a good selling point for any software provider.

How Much?

Zimbra offers the f*ree option which is advertising-supported, or the paid version for US$ 2.00 a year per mailbox for the hosted service. On-premises Zimbra systems are priced at US$ 1.50 per mailbox. Sounds like a bargain – especially, for a smaller college. Faculty systems contain more features and are priced at US$ 35.00 a year per faculty member as a hosted service; US$ 8.00 a year per member as an On-Premises system. All numbers are according to InformationWeek, as Zimbra itself is hesitant to provide that much detail. On-Site pricing, however, can be found on Zimbra here. More information on feature-edition comparison can be found on Zimbra’s Web site.

Zimbra’s Competitive Landscape

In the educational market, Zimbra is competing directly with Google and its Education Edition of Google Apps. Just having launched Google Apps Labs, there may be more for Google to offer to the education market, if third-party developers jump on the wagon, as Google invites them to. Google still has its competitive edge over Zimbra by providing Google Docs and Google Sites functionality, which does not seem to be part of Zimbra’s plan right now. Depending on how you look at this topic, Zoho can be seen as a potential competitor as well, with its offerings of Zoho Docs, Zoho Email and Zoho Office. As far as other cloud players (aplenty) go, there’s Amazon Web Services (AWS), IBM, HP and, most recently, Microsoft with its Windows Azure. However, not one of the aforementioned concentrates on the education vertical. At least, not at the moment. Cloud computing is one of the hottest strategic trends for 2009, as identified by Gartner. As per Gartner, the key characteristics of cloud computing are: # SaaS capabilities # Delivery of services in a highly scalable and elastic fashion # Usage of Internet technologies and techniques to develop and deliver the services # Designing for delivery to external customers With cost savings and the built-in elasticity, SaaS may seem like a good option for organizations looking to achieve lower barriers to entry, along with quick scalability and growth. Just like in case with SaaS Web Content Management Systems, OmniUpdate has found it niche of catering (almost) exclusively to higher eds, while vendors like Clickability do it all. Zimbra may have found its niche as well, with seemingly obvious plans to expand and do it all.