Storage Soup

Sep 18 2007   10:51AM GMT

Web 2.0 companies get deeper into data storage, email SaaS

Beth Pariseau Beth Pariseau Profile: Beth Pariseau

Yahoo bought Zimbra Inc.  today for $350 million. The New York Times reports that the acquisition is meant to help Yahoo better compete with Google, and its GMail service, which Google has begun to offer to businesses this year.

We’ve covered GMail quite a bit, both on the main news site and this blog. We covered the launch of Google Apps for Enterprise and its 10 GB inbox, and then spoke with one early adopter of the Apps on how he’d used it to save time and money on email storage. We’ve also discussed some of the “gotchas” with software as a service for enterprises, and fielded Google’s response to those points. Finally, we’ve seen Yahoo peeking over Google’s shoulder a bit, with its announcement of unlimited inbox capacity for its webmail.

Shortly after enterprise storage experts started questioning the security and compliance of Google’s offering, the company went out and bought an enterprise archiving player, Postini. By that time, analysts were remarking that software as a service, particularly for email archiving and backup, is officially back. “People now will say, ‘oh, no one’s going to get rid of Exchange’,” ESG analyst Brian Babineau said at the time. “But it’s a generational thing — newly graduated employees are joining businesses from college already standardized on Gmail, and many corporations are saying, why manage Exchange when employees are already used to this Web-based, outsourced interface?”

It appears Yahoo sees the same writing on the wall. Today, like Google, they purchased another company to bring in some enterprise-level expertise for their email SaaS.

The storage market is already a little bit familiar with Zimbra. It’s an open-source messaging system, so most of the product’s features have little to do with storage, per se. But Zimbra also began announcing archiving customers recently, including an ISP in Dallas, Texas, that plans to offer Zimbra archiving to its customers in local K-12 school districts.

As with Postini, the company that Google acquired, Zimbra’s software has most of the features on the enterprise email archiving checklist, including automatic .pst file discovery and migration, and the ability to index, search and export messages or mailboxes for e-discovery and compliance purposes.

Where it differs from other products is the fact that it can support multiple email systems, including Exchange, Lotus, Domino and GroupWise, as well as its own email application, and can support messages from any combination of those applications in the same repository, the company claims. A disadvantage for Yahooo, meanwhile, is that Zimbra’s archiving product is relatively unproven in the market, having just become generally available July 23.

Interestingly enough, Google had an announcement of its own today–the release of Google Presentations, a Web-based competitor to PowerPoint. Clearly, Google is going after Microsoft hard, but over in this little corner of the IT market, I’m having a bit of a chuckle today–in responding to the “gotchas” in a Q&A with Storage Soup back in April, Google Enterprise product manager Rajen Sheth told me the following:

We’re definitely not trying to duplicate Microsoft Office. The way I would think of it is that Office is very well designed for individual productivity–an individual preparing something to present to a group of people. We’re focusing Google Docs and Spreadsheets on collaborative use case scenarios.

We’ll never know if Google saw an opportunity and changed its mind or if the market taking off influenced its decision to release Presentations. But one thing is clear as this trend continues, with reports also out this week that Facebook is contemplating throwing its hat into the application-storage ring as well: Web 2.0 giants are fast becoming the successors to Microsoft and IBM as the dominant force in computing of the 21st century. The more news I see like this, the more I’m inclined to side with Babineau–the times, they are a-changin’. 

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