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As if it weren’t enough that VMware owns most of the server virtualization
market out there today, now the company is rumored to be interested in buying
open-source messaging, e-mail and collaboration vendor Zimbra from Yahoo.

Rumors first surfaced last fall that Yahoo,
which purchased Zimbra two years before, was looking to sell it
just as
Zimbra’s 6.0 collaboration suite came to market.
Early this week press outlets were reporting VMware as the apparent suitor.

While some see this as a move by VMware to expand and diversify its markets,
perhaps giving it an entrée into cloud computing and hosted software-as-a-service
offerings—much the way Microsoft and others offer hosted Microsoft Exchange and
SharePoint—others weren’t so sure.

“VMware is so good at virtualization, why would they look at acquiring any
collaboration suite, open source or not?” asks Doug Ford, president and CEO
of The I.T. Pros in San Diego, which heavily relies on VMware as its
virtualization solution for its own infrastructure-as-a-service delivery. “My
eyes are focused on hosted Exchange for customers that can’t afford or don’t
want an on-premises solution.”

As a strong VMware partner, Ford says he looks forward to learning more about
VMware’s plans and product offerings for the channel.

But Todd Knapp of CEO, CTO
and founder of Providence, R.I.-based Envision Technology Advisors, speculates
that VMware may have its eye on more than just software as a service.

“The message I’m taking out of this is that VMware is really trying to do what IBM
did when it released the rights to make generic PCs,” says Knapp. “If you let
everybody develop on [the VMware platform], then it will become the solution of
evolution rather than brute force.”

Knapp believes VMware may be looking to use Zimbra and its other recent open-source
acquisitions to add application appliances into its data center operating system.

“They would get into the business of providing virtual appliances you could buy
to meet business needs in the data center rather than investing in Microsoft
operating systems with their licensing requirements,” he says.

Such an approach would greatly simplify administration, says Knapp, who points
to the nightmares many experienced when upgrading to Microsoft Exchange 2007,
making sure it was compatible with current server operating systems and then
upgrading to Microsoft Exchange 2010 and encountering more migration headaches
among all the different operating systems and applications, not to mention
Active Directory.

Would stalwart customer organizations consider switching to an open-source e-mail
application from longtime e-mail application leader Microsoft and its Exchange
server?

“If I said to any end user or CEO anywhere,
‘What’s your mail server?’ they would give me a blank stare,” says Knapp. But
what about if he pitched it to an IT administrator? “Any IT person would say
[Exchange] works, and then they will look at you with that face that says it’s
the lesser of two evils.”