Email and Collaboration

I saw this article pop up on a blog the other day so I thought maybe it would be a good time to discuss Zimbra as a good solution for email and collaboration for a small business.  Until about 6 months ago, my company was running a simple and free SMTP/IMAP server with web access by SquirrelMail.  This all worked great for mail and of course is was great since it was free.  For our meeting/calendar system though, we were using MeetingMaker.  This wasn’t free and there were several things we did not like about it.

  1. By default, it would not do LDAP authentication.  So everyone had to remember a different username/password and manage keeping them in sync.  To get this capability was more money.
  2. It did not integrate at all with the mail client.  Again, I think there were some connectors you could buy or publish as ICS, but at that point the security model wasn’t proven out.
  3. It did not support over the air synchronization with wireless devices without several add-on packages.

So about six months ago when we had used up all our MeetingMaker licenses and new we would be hiring some new people soon, we decided to hunt around for a new solution.  Our goals were basically, to make up for the 3 flaws listed below. We wanted an integrated mail/calendar system, preferably with other collaboration features as well such as task lists, contact storage, etc.  We wanted something that would allow us to do LDAP authentication with our existing LDAP servers.  We also wanted something that supported OTA synchronization with wireless devices.  As always, we also prefer open source.

Looking around, we found two main options.  The Kolab project looked fairly promising, but had a few big question marks on it at the time.  At the time, the web interface (using Horde) was not fully completed.  It also had a somewhat un-favorable and un-friendly installation.  They had everything packaged together with another system that was meant to ensure all the correct versions of everything got installed, but I ultimately found it very difficult to work with.

The other potential solution we came across was Zimbra.  This looked very promising.  It was open source, had all the features we were looking for (some did have a fee, but we weren’t completely opposed to that), and had been proven a little more than Kolab had with several large installations we could refer to.  So we ended up choosing Zimbra, though we did end up going the Network Edition route with the “Zimbra Mobile” addition, but all in all, it still came out to about the same as we were paying just for our meeting system before.  So it was still a very good deal.

Zimbra does offer their open source edition and if you aren’t looking for OTA synchronization with mobile devices or a few other features (a scripted backup/restore process, rebranding, domain level administration) then the regular, free edition will probably work great for you.  I definitely encourage anyone interested to give it a try and let me know your results.

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