This month (July 2018) we started selling Office 365 and Mimecast, and we expect to add more products and services in the coming weeks to further enhance customers’ mission critical email experiences.

One question I’m asked frequently is: “Is Zimbra still the best email and collaboration solution for my company, or should we be using Microsoft Office365 instead?” so I’m going to try to provide a framework for how I go about answering that.  The trick to answering questions like this is to ask: “What’s ‘the job'”?  and then “What’s the best tool for the job?”.  A VW GTI is a fun commuter car, but don’t try using it to bring home sheetrock from The Home Depot.  Similarly, it’s best to clearly understand how employees access and use email and collaboration, before saying that Zimbra or Office 365 is the “better” solution.

Executive Summary:
Zimbra:

  • remains the lower-cost solution
  • has more refined and powerful core features
  • is more performant (when hosted appropriately)
  • has greater third-party application interoperability, especially on mobile, and
  • is based on open-source components

Microsoft Office365 however provides a broader feature set than Zimbra and, given Microsoft’s much larger development budget, is changing much faster than Zimbra.

Neither Zimbra nor Microsoft Office 365 on their own do enough for companies deeply concerned about email security, data loss prevention, compliance and disaster recovery, which is why we sell Mimecast, a Gartner Group “Leader” in multiple categories for several years running.

So let’s peel the onion back a little…

Cost Comparison:
An Office 365 E1 subscription is not-quite-feature-comparable to a Zimbra Network Edition Professional mailbox. An Office 365 E1 subscription costs $8.00 per user per month with an annual commitment for a 50GB mailbox.  Most Zimbra Business Service Providers sell the same per-mailbox Zimbra offering for less (we sell a 50GB Zimbra mailbox for $5.00 per month for example, or 37.5% less).  In fact, Zimbra Network Edition Professional comes bundled with some compliance tools (like e-discovery) that Microsoft does not include in an E1 subscription. You’ll need an E3 or an E5 subscription to get those features, and then your monthly per-user cost goes up to $20.00 (E3) or $35.00 (E5). And you still may not be fully HIPAA compliant at that point.

Office 365 E3 and E5 subscriptions do however include Office applications like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, but you can buy an Office applications subscription for $8.25 per user per month, so if we subtract $8.25 from the costs for an E3 and an E5 subscription, you get $11.75 and $26.75 net for some more compliance features than Zimbra offer natively.

Core Feature Comparison:
Although Zimbra and Office 365 both have mostly the same email and collaboration feature set, most email “power users” I know prefers Zimbra.  Zimbra’s Search functionality for example provides a smaller number of more relevant search results, and the entire results set can be more easily manipulated than the search result set in the web interface of Office 365.

Similarly, Zimbra’s drag ‘n drop functionality improves staff productivity in multiple ways over Office 365, for example by leveraging drag ‘n drop on Zimbra’s always-visible “mini-calendar” to create a new appointment from an email thread: all of the recipients on the thread are invited; all of the attachments in the thread are included in the meeting invite, and; the entire email thread text is appended as a Note to the invite, so if you include any new participants in the invite, they can get caught up quickly, in one place — without having to forward them a variety of past emails from the thread.

Performance:
For more than 12 years I’ve been working with Zimbra.  Zimbra doesn’t need a lot of resources to fly.  An m4.xlarge on Amazon Web Services (4 CPU cores and 16GB of RAM) will support several thousand mailboxes and provide near instantaneous web interface updates to the end user. My experience of having to wait fractions of a second to several seconds for the Office 365 web interface to respond seems common amongst the companies I’ve surveyed.  Many others seem to complain about Office 365 performance, so presumably Microsoft will address this at some point. It’s not debilitating, it’s just annoying to have to wait those noticeable fractions of a second repeatedly.

Interoperability:
Zimbra supports Exchange Web Services, Exchange ActiveSync, CalDAV and CardDAV,  IMAP, POP and more, so you can get your emails, contacts, calendars etc. anywhere, anytime, on pretty much any Desktop or Mobile email client software (or Zimbra’s web interface) with no problem.

Our family uses an Office 365 business account; we set up a joint Family Calendar that is available only on the Office 365 web interface.  Surprisingly, it’s not available in Outlook on my Mac nor on my iPhone.  Similarly, while I can subscribe to my Zimbra Calendars in Outlook, I can’t do the same in Zimbra with my Office 365 calendar. Office 365 supports calendar interoperability via static, periodic exports of my Office 365 calendar as an “.ics” file, meaning I need to download and import a new Office 365 ics file every time to get any calendar updates in any application other than Outlook or the Office 365 web interface.

Open Source Pedigree:
The majority of the software that comprises Zimbra is open source. In the rest of the world, many governments and companies have a preference for open source software, which is one reason why Zimbra’s traction in the enterprise market is greater overseas than here in the U.S. Leveraging open source software however has enabled Zimbra’s parent company, Synacor <NASDAQ:SYNC> to host performant, secure Zimbra systems with millions of mailboxes for ISPs, telecoms and companies like Intuit long before Office 365 was even in beta testing.

Conclusion:
Having said all that, Microsoft at the end of the day is an ecosystem, so if your company has a major investment in the Microsoft ecosystem, Office 365 — perhaps enhanced with Mimecast — may be your best bet.

Again, our job at Mission Critical Email is to help you better define “the job” and then help you pick the right tool for the job.

Feel free to contact us if you’d like to explore how you can improve your email’s security, compliance and disaster recovery with Mimecast.

L. Mark Stone
Mission Critical Email
2 July 2018

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