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Zimbra Collaboration Server Open Source Edition is a promising low-end package

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 06, 2008 01:24 PM
Your review mirrors my experiences with Zimbra CE 1 version back from current.
My small consulting company needed a calendaring server where we could see each others' availability - like MS-Exchange. I didn't need or want all the extra bells and whistles that come with Zimbra, but many of them have grown on me and my users.

Key requirements were:
a) not hosted externally - we don't trust others to run our systems. We certainly don't trust google with our proprietary emails.
b) free or really, really cheap
c) shared "enterprise" calendars
d) full alias support and shared folders of some kind
e) all communication must support SSL
f) LDAP for user information, authentication
g) Run under a virtual machine environment, Xen, VMware, VirtualBox
h) Our data has to always be our data and not locked into a specific vendor solution

Email just works. SSL/IMAP and SMTPS.

Calendaring works fantastic with the web interface or the HUGE memory hog Zimbra Client. Enterprise calendaring is great. It doesn't work at all with Outlook in the free version. Forget it. The calendar claims ICS, iCal, support which seems to be true. Under Thunderbird/Lightning connecting to multiple calendars works, but enterprise calendaring doesn't work. There's no good way to see availability for 10 other people. I've decided to use the web interface for all meeting requests to avoid any issues. Viewing the calendar with Lightning works - the alarms are broken - there's no way to dismiss them - at least snooze and dismiss from thunderbird (linux and XP) don't work for me.

Surprises. There are a few extras included with the Zimbra CE version.

Instant Messaging - We've been using the built-in IM support since the beginning,l but it supports XMPP, so any jabber compatible client works ...over SSL too. Verified with Pidgin.

Document Storage - Er ... I tested this for about a month, then disabled it for everyone. Alfresco is a more complete answer.

Wiki/Notebooks - Er ... I tested this for about 2 months, then disabled it for everyone. MediaWiki is a better answer and trivial to setup.

Contact Management - Initially, we each loaded our contacts from thunderbird, outlook, whatever. My thunderbird contacts didn't load clean. Some of the fields were ignored and others were put into the wrong Zimbra field. I ended up exporting them to a CSV and getting the fields to import in the way that Zimbra likes. I needed to clean them up, remove dups and merge data anyway.

Search - Search across everything stored in Zimbra is impressive. I've stopped managing old emails and just shove them into a single IMAP folder for later use by year. Fantastic.

Backup and Recovery - That is always a concern. Since our company is small and will probably never have more than 50 users, I elected to simply shut down the server nightly and backup the entire virtual machine image. A 20GB VM disk becomes 2.5GB of tgz after the backup. It takes about 15 minutes for that to occur. At 4am, 15 min of downtime isn't a big deal. The best thing is that complete and total recovery is trivial. We keep 8 days of these complete backups so if something goes wrong, we have multiple chances to get back almost everything. I've migrated the entire VM to a different Xen server on the network without any issues at all. Just start up on the other server and your Zimbra install is moved.

Samba/Posix Integration - We all want SSO or at least single logon management. Zimbra has guides on adding Posix account support that I was able to follow. Samba and UNIX logins have been working from 4 other virtual machines for months. This week, I hooked up MediaWiki logins with very little effort. Alfresco is proving to be more difficult to couple to the Zimbra LDAP store, but others have confirmed it works. SugarCRM will be my next integration effort.

Bonus side effect - Outlook support for Calendaring is non-existent. That means employees who want to use Outlook really can't. All of you know, Outlook is the "killer app" for most users and while they complain at first, soon the web2.0 interface wins them over. External accounts can be connected and polled.

The Bad - even for a trial installation, at least 1GB of RAM is required and a DNS MX record **must** exist to match your server host/domain name. `hostname` and `domainname` have to return what Zimbra likes or you're screwed. This is just stupid. There's no need for a machine to have to match the virtual name for an email server, but Zimbra makes this a requirement for some reason. Nobody places a server directly on the internet anymore. I spent more time messing with my /etc/hosts table to make Zimbra happy too. Basically, 2 lines with 1 name are all you **can** have in it to get Zimbra installed. After the install, you can add whatever hosts you need.

There are many, many other good things about Zimbra like multi-domain support, but the free version isn't ready for complex deployment without a trained expert involved. OTOH, can you say that MS-Exchange doesn't require experts to perform a complex deployment either?


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