Innovation & Engineering – Zimbra Inc. combines it like magic. With its Open Source, next Generation Collaboration Suite rocking the Internet, Zimbra is all set to change the world of messaging & collaboration! We are proud to have Mr. Sam Khavari who is Director of Engineering at Zimbra Inc. (USA), on CE. In an email interview with CE, Sam shares his thoughts with CEans.
Check out CE’s Small Talk with Sam…
CE: Hello Sam, tell us about your job at Zimbra Inc.
Sam: I’m Director of Engineering at Zimbra. I started at Zimbra 3 years ago as a Principal Engineer. Early on we all worked closely together (CEO, VP’s, engineers, the entire team) to design aspects of what is now ZCS. While contributing to the design of the overall solution, I began implementation of the Zimbra Connector for Outlook and Migration Wizard for Exchange. More recently I’ve been focusing on the overall integration strategy. The goal is for Zimbra to be accessible from multiple platforms, multiple clients and interoperate seamlessly with existing solutions. We aim to serve the diverse landscape of operating system platforms, collaboration clients, and mobility solutions so users can access their Zimbra content from their client of choice.
CE: Zimbra is being talked about everywhere. What is Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS)?
Sam: ZCS is a comprehensive messaging and collaboration solution which includes a server, multiple client access mechanisms, and administration utilities. For end users ZCS includes email, calendaring with group scheduling, contacts support, documents/wiki support, mobile access, sharing capabilities, powerful search capabilities and I’m sure I’ve missed something. How do end users access all this functionality? We have an extremely feature rich AJAX client, a “lite” html client, and a one of a kind browser-based desktop client with offline support, native Outlook support for Windows users, iSync support for Apple users, an Evolution connector for Linux users, out of the box mobility support for Windows Mobile users (including Treo 650/700 & Nokia N & E series phones), and we support standard POP & IMAP clients. Did we miss anyone?
For administrators we have an easy to install, easy to manage, high performance, reliable, extensible, open, enterprise and service provider grade collaboration server. We have a world class AJAX based administration console for managing servers, users, domains as well as command line tools for the hacker type administrators. There are a ton of amazing features in our administration console. My personal favorite administrative capability is our cross mailbox searching for compliance which allows an administrator to run a complex search query across all mailboxes. They can have the results placed into a new mailbox which a compliance official can access for analysis.
CE: Why is Zimbra touching the email problem again?
Sam: Zimbra is not just about email. We are working on a much larger problem for which email is one component. Zimbra is tackling this challenge because customers are complaining. Customers are saying current solutions are antiquated, too complex to manage, to maintain, to use and cannot meet their cross platform compatibility needs. Our aim is to innovate to increase user’s productivity, simplify complex collaborative functions, and lighten the load on administrators and the wallet.
CE: AJAX is at the heart of ZCS. What are the advantages of using AJAX?
Sam: AJAX is at the heart of the Zimbra AJAX Client and AJAX Administration console, two major components of ZCS. AJAX has many significant advantages. First, from the administrators point of view there’s deployment and distribution. Let’s compare upgrading our AJAX client with upgrading our Connector for Outlook. When a server upgrade happens, the entire user base has access to the latest version of the AJAX client. No clients need to be upgraded; no machines need to be touched. To bring outlook users up to date, all client desktops need to be upgraded with the latest connector bits. Sure, there are products and processes to solve this problem, but getting this without additional effort is a significant advantage of AJAX.
From the end users point of view there’s the benefit of accessibility. You can access the AJAX client from anywhere you have any web browser. Having a browser and an internet connection is truly ubiquitous these days.
From the developing companies point of view there are some significant advantages to using AJAX. Most importantly is that AJAX is OS and hardware independent. We develop on a single code-base that supports Windows, Mac Intel & PPC, Linux, etc. The 32bit to 64bit transition is completely transparent to our AJAX team. Additionally, using AJAX reduces version testing complexity. Specifically, it removes the need to test different versions of the client with different versions of the server.
Finally I want to point out that we get to realize the benefits of AJAX without sacrificing the user experience. AJAX provides substantial benefits to Administrators, end-users, and developers while maintaining a rich and powerful end-user experience.
CE: What are Zimlets?
Sam: Zimlets are very easy to implement pluggable modules that anyone can develop to extend the capabilities of the Zimbra AJAX Client and the AJAX based administration console. We have a sample Zimlet that integrates Yahoo maps with the Zimbra AJAX Client so when you mouse over an address, you can get a map of the area. We have other samples that let you play Flash based video games, look at traffic data, book a flight and place the corresponding appointment on your calendar, translate text, lookup and approve purchase orders, check your voicemail or setup a call between two phones. Remember, all of this runs in right inside your web browser.
CE: How is Zimbra Supported on Mobile Devices?
Sam: You go and buy an Windows Mobile, Treo, or Symbian phone, take it out of the box, punch in your Zimbra server’s name and your account information and presto, your mail, contacts and calendar are synchronized over the air to the phone. You don’t have to install anything on the device. You can configure your device to stay up to date so as soon as new messages hit the server they will be pushed to the device.
CE: How does Zimbra perform on the Server Side?
Sam: Zimbra performs extremely well on the server side. It’s the only collaboration server designed for the reliability and feature set enterprise customers demand while providing the performance and scale service providers demand. We published our service provider benchmark demonstrating that our server can manage multiple 100,000s of consumer mailboxes per PC-class server.
CE: What is Offline Zimbra? How does it work?
Sam: Offline Zimbra, now officially known as Zimbra Desktop, is the first of its kind. It is the same browser based AJAX client that works against the Zimbra server but it works offline! We install a “lite” Zimbra server on your desktop which executes continuous background two-way replication between your desktop server and the primary server. A user leverages the Zimbra AJAX client to access their local mailbox which provides the same familiar online web experience even when you are offline. For example, you’re on a 5 ½ hour flight from Atlanta to SFO, you can read new emails, compose new messages, manage your calendar, and schedule meetings through the Zimbra AJAX client. When you are back at work, your local changes are replicated to the primary server and remote changes replicated to your local server bringing both mailboxes up to date.
CE: How is Zimbra a better bet over its competitors? What are the key features that Zimbra offers?
Sam: I had something here that talked about why our product is so hot but I deleted it because the product speaks for itself; give the demo a try. Not only has Zimbra innovated in its products, but it has done something truly unique in being a transparent company. Our entire development process is completely transparent and this is all about putting the community and customers behind the wheel. Our defect tracking system is out there for the community and customers to file bugs. This isn’t about customers telling us what doesn’t work; it’s about them shaping the future of Zimbra. We want to know what features and enhancements they want, and what these features and enhancements really mean from their point of view. We ask the community to vote on items in Bugzilla so we can determine what to work on next. We have an entire product portal that exposes what will be contained in our future releases, and this is all based on feedback from customers and the community. The best feature Zimbra has to offer is that it puts the customer first in every aspect.
CE: How easy is it to migrate to Zimbra?
Sam: It really depends on what product you are migrating away from and how large of an existing deployment you have. If you migrate from Exchange, Domino, GroupWise or anything that was saving data in a PST, migration is pretty simple. We have wizards that will provision and replicate account information as well as mailbox data from these systems to Zimbra. For smaller IMAP based servers, you can use IMAPSync to migrate the existing data to Zimbra. For other systems, if you can export the data to standard RFC822 MIME messages, RFC2445 based ICS files, and VCARD files, you can import your mail, calendar and contacts to Zimbra using our REST API’s.
CE: What is cross-mailbox search?
Sam: This is an amazing administrative feature. It allows you to execute any search across multiple mailboxes. This is typically used for compliance or discovery in an enterprise but can be used for all kinds of purposes. We offer something unique here in that the result of a cross-mailbox search can be placed in its own mailbox. This enables your legal council to login to a mailbox and leverage all the Zimbra functionality to complete the investigation. At $400/hr we want the lawyers in and out as fast as possible.
CE: Sam, thanks for taking out time to talk to us. What is your message to the CEans?
Sam: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss an awesome up and coming collaboration platform. We would love to hear your thoughts on what we’ve done well or even what we haven’t done well. Chime in at www.zimbra.com/forums and make sure to try out our demo at www.zimbra.com. If you like what we have, make sure to tell your system administrator!
CE is thankful to Sam for talking out time to talk to us from his busy schedule. CE is also thankful to Marissa Coughlin for her efforts in making the Small Talk with Sam possible. For latest news from Zimbra, visit Zimbra Press Releases.