Like a pinball, Zimbra bounces again, now to Telligent from VMware

Telligent has acquired Zimbra from VMware in order to give its enterprise social networking suite an enterprise email and calendaring component.

For Zimbra, it’s the second time it’s been sold since 2010, when VMware acquired it from Yahoo. Zimbra was an independent company when Yahoo bought it in 2007 for $350 million.

The deal is the latest move by VMware to divest itself of enterprise collaboration products. VMware, a virtualization specialist that several years ago started building a collaboration suite via acquisitions, sold one of those pieces, SlideRocket, to ClearSide in March.

VMware had acquired SlideRocket, a cloud application designed to let users post and share slide presentations, in 2011.

VMware also bought enterprise social-networking provider Socialcast, and has said it is developing a cloud file-sharing product now called Horizon Suite.

In its statement Monday, Telligent said that once the deal closes, the merged company will be called Zimbra, which will be positioned as a provider of a “unified collaboration suite.”

The new Zimbra will receive investments from Intel Capital, NXT Capital Venture Finance, BDCA, Hall Financial Group and VMware, Telligent said.

With this move, Telligent is taking an interesting tack on its enterprise collaboration strategy, opting to add an email and calendaring component that other enterprise social networking providers don’t have.

In this manner, Telligent becomes a more direct competitor to bigger communication and collaboration vendors like Microsoft, IBM and Google. It has traditionally competed more directly with enterprise social vendors like Jive, Socialtext, NewsGator and Tibbr.

In the statement VMware COO Carl Eschenbach said VMware is focusing on the “software-defined data center, hybrid cloud and end-user computing opportunities” and that it will provide a “smooth transition” for Zimbra customers and partners. A VMware spokesman added via email that the Zimbra sale “marks the completion of VMware’s divestitures associated with realignment actions announced previously” in January.

Telligent founder and CTO Rob Howard said in an interview that the new Zimbra will be able to offer both traditional collaboration capabilities like email and calendaring via the Zimbra software, along with the Telligent enterprise social networking functionality and real-time communication tools for IM presence and text video and audio chat. In addition, Zimbra integrates with a variety of third-party tools, including with Cisco IP telephony systems, he said.

“We now have the ability to capture all of the [workplace] interactions people have,” Howard said.

Despite predictions that email is on its way out, Telligent believes it is and will continue to be a key part of enterprise communications and collaboration systems, albeit one that is ripe for innovation, he said.

At its customer conference in September, Telligent plans to show the first integration points between its software and Zimbra, including single sign-on and the availability of Telligent activity streams within the Zimbra interface.

Telligent also plans to continue meeting with Zimbra customers over the coming months in order to gather feedback that it will use to plan the next major Zimbra release, due in the first half of next year.

After that, Telligent expects to start delivering even broader and tighter integration between the two platforms, and more innovative features, leveraging the Telligent enterprise social analytics and recommendation engine, for example.

The deal, which was closed on Friday, had been in the works for several months, so Telligent has been in communication with Zimbra employees, partners and customers already, Howard said.

Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky said he was surprised that the new company will be called Zimbra, since the email and calendaring suite lags in market share behind rivals like IBM’s Notes/Domino, Microsoft’s Outlook/Exchange and Google’s Gmail/Apps. Telligent, on the other hand, has become a successful enterprise social collaboration software provider.

Despite his misgivings about the brand name choice, Lepofsky thinks the fusion makes sense. “I think Zimbra fits better with Telligent than it did with VMWare, as Telligent’s primary focus is communication and collaboration, where that was never VMWare’s focus,” he said via email.

Matthew Cain, a Gartner analyst, is skeptical about the chances of success of a Telligent-Zimbra software integration, since it didn’t happen between Zimbra and VMware’s enterprise social networking product Socialcast.

“The Telligent idea of merging email with social, of course, is spot on — but if VMware could not make a go of it with Socialcast, one wonders how Telligent will do any better,” Cain said via email.

He also noted that Zimbra’s saga — from independent company to Yahoo acquisition, and then to VMware and now Telligent — shows just how difficult it can be to get traction in the enterprise email market.

“Despite popular open source underpinnings and a visionary web client, Zimbra never was able to build momentum in the corporate market,” Cain said.

Financial details of the deal aren’t being disclosed.

Updated at 10:28 a.m. PT with new information throughout the story.

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