In terms of the Windows crowd, the email platform of choice is usually Microsoft Exchange Server. Regardless of where you stand on the cloud debate related to email systems such as Gmail, I think we can all unite on the frustrations associated with administering Exchange. Further, it is a costly solution in terms of licensing and equipment provisioning. I haven't been current on Microsoft Exchange since the 2007 version, and the work required to come up to speed on it is not appealing to me.
I've been spending some time dabbling around with the alternatives to Exchange, one of which is Zimbra, which has open source roots and was recently acquired by VMware. All of the key requirements can be met with Zimbra, such as having integration with Microsoft Outlook and publishing free/busy data.
One of the key differentiators that Zimbra brings to the table is that it can be deployed as virtual appliances. I'm definitely pro-virtualization for today's data center workloads. An email solution that is virtualization aware by design and owned by VMware is definitely something to consider. The Zimbra offering is also available as a direct install if the virtual appliance isn't desired.
So far, I like what I see with Zimbra. After I get to know how Zimbra works out of the box, I'm going to roll in the requirements I would need for a typical installation; this would include the ability to back up and restore the mail server and its contents, address retention requirements, provide mobile access, and scores of other deployment requirements.
The installation of the virtual appliance is extremely easy, and you can get the Zimbra appliance up and running in about 30 minutes (see how to deploy the Zimbra email appliance). There are a number of Zimbra pricing arrangements, including free options. The free offering is what caught my eye, and then I started comparing it to Exchange.
I'm not providing a point by point comparison of Zimbra and Exchange here; I'm simply saying that if you want an email solution that is simpler than Exchange, something like Zimbra is an option. I have come to this decision because of what email does to me and how people use messaging systems. Specifically, how frustrated do you get with reply to all communications that don't clearly say to whom the message is directed? Or how many of us have an inbox with more than 1,000 items in it? How well do we actually use these tools? Is it time to consider an alternative that costs less and is simpler to use and manage?
Are you looking for an Exchange alternative? If so, what solutions interest you? Let us know in the discussion.
Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.