So VMware bought Zimbra: now what?

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 18, 2010

Many of you no doubt already know about VMware's snagging of Zimbra away from the clutches of Yahoo! If I'm a Zimbra employee or executive, I might be breathing a sigh or relief, or I might be disappointed. But one thing's for sure – I'm definitely wondering what's next. Stand back, for I, John Mark Walker, have dared to gaze in the crystal ball. Zowie!

After reading Dan Kusnetzky's excellent blog post, above, you should then read Stephen O'Grady's Q and A on the subject. In fact, I recommend reading his work so often, I've created a macro for the previous sentence. What O'Grady touches on, and what interests me, is this part:

Q: How about a question from the audience, one from Karsten Wade: how does the M&A benefit the open communities whose work is bundled in Zimbra?
A: As a company whose relationship with open source – at least prior to the SpringSource acquisition – is complicated, the Magic 8-Ball says 'Ask again later.'

Stephen is right that Zimbra provides a number of things for VMware:

  1. Nice revenue stream
  2. Test case for cloud ambitions
  3. Test case for ISV / developer ambitions

#1 is obvious. VMware gets a tested ISV tailor-made to be delivered as a service, right as VMware is pushing it's platform as a service-delivery vehicle. As an added bonus, VMware actually gets to make money on Zimbra's current sales pipeline, which is significant. I don't like to use the word 'synergy', but it sure applies here. #2 makes sense because Zimbra becomes the sugar in VMware's platform offerings to service providers. If VMware is to be taken seriously as the platform for cloud services, their Zimbra case study becomes Exhibit A in their argument, assuming they are successful, and I don't see how they could possibly screw this one up. And finally we get to #3, because this is the part where the crystal ball becomes less than crystal clear.

O'Grady is absolutely right when he says the only way a platform strategy works is with market domination, and if I'm VMware I'm going to do everything within my power to build the biggest ISV ecosystem the world has ever known. That means making your platform ubiquitous so that developers come to you organically. (see: Google) That also means developing a comprehensive open source strategy to grease the skids of software and community development. (see: Google. Again. Oh, and Red Hat and Ubuntu) And let's be blunt here – VMware can't afford to do just one out of two if they wish to be successful. To date, VMware has created appliance marketplaces for ISV's and created great content for users of its platform. It has not done much with respect to developer collaboration, and that's the missing cog in the wheel. This being 2010, I would be greatly surprised if they could build a developer collaboration ecosystem without a comprehensive open source strategy. So surprised, in fact, that if the previous statement proved false, I should just hang my keys to the OStatic blog.

About two years ago, I spoke with one of the upper management muckety-mucks at VMware, encouraging him to take on a more visible role in open source ecosystem development. Of course, he tossed aside my idea like yesterday's trash, but I feel somewhat vindicated – it now appears that, despite his protestations, VMware has been, in fact, pursuing that strategy. However, they are not doing enough if they want to actually succeed – not nearly enough.

Let's look at what VMware currently has in the open source department:

  • Hyperic – with their recent cloud monitoring and management efforts, this is a nice thing to have.
  • SpringSource – very crucial to future developments. With this building block in place, it could be the key to their ISV strategy.
  • Zimbra – nice test case for their ambitions. If successful, you can bet that there's more where this came from.

Given their ambitions, and what they currently have, VMware's future roadmap is taking shape. If I'm VMware, I start making the case to other open source ISV's that VMware is their ideal technology partner. This is where their success or failure with Zimbra is crucial. And to really do this, they'll need to do much more than just provide an appliance marketplace – they'll have to provide build, test and deploy services, open developer collaboration, and the means to both build community and sales pipelines. This requires a significant retooling of their current community efforts. If successful, companies like SugarCRM, JasperSoft, MuleSoft, and Alfresco would stand to greatly benefit, building a positive feedback loop from which VMware would also stand to benefit. It's a real win-win from everyone's perspective. To really get the ball rolling and make some noise, I would offer those very same services to non-commercial open source projects, too. Not only would developers appreciate it, but VMware would benefit from being the builder of record of bridges between open source projects, both commercial and otherwise. No other company occupies this space, and VMware could reap significant rewards by capitalizing on other companies' dithering. “Which companies?” you might ask. All of them. By occupying this space, VMware would become the center of gravity for a host of new enterprising ISV's. Would that it were easy – the commitment necessary to get to that point requires a significant investment, not to mention leadership from people with experience in this arena.

For VMware to rule the platform space, they have to decide that they're willing to invest in the greatest developer ecosystem ever known. To go beyond all the software forges and “Barney” ISV partnerships. (I love you, you love me...) Are they willing to go there?

John Mark Walker is a long-time open source agitprop and community organizer. He is the founder of the UbuCon, the 2nd incarnation of GeekPAC and Community Root, LLC. You can read all of his musings at Follow him at Twitter - @johnmark - and - @johnmark