When the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute needed a new e-mail and groupware platform to support its rapid growth in staff it decided to deploy the open source Zimbra instead of the popular Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes.
The institute, located at the Sydney Prince of Wales Hospital, was founded in 1993 but only last year began to investigate managing its own infrastructure in-house by hiring its first IT manager, Andrew Cartwright.
Cartwright said the institute began to outgrow its current IT infrastructure and a lot of services were being provided by the neighboring university and hospital.
"We started with nothing and my background is with Linux so that's one of the reasons that attracted me to Zimbra - it ran on Linux and was cross platform," he said.
In an effort to use open standards "as much as possible", Cartwright wasn't keen to go with Exchange as it is a Windows-only product and a lot of the researchers have a preference for using Mac OS X, while others need to use Linux for research.
"It's not a standard business environment and I need to support a lot of systems," Cartwright said.
Although Lotus Notes runs on Linux he said he has never been "that impressed" with the product.
The decision came down to Novell's GroupWise and Zimbra, but after trialling the open source edition of Zimbra Cartwright said it "stacked up a lot better" and is a "rapidly developing" product.
Zimbra made a name for itself by being one of only a handful of open source, Linux-based providers of enterprise groupware software. The company offers an open source version for free and a full-featured network professional edition for a paid subscription.
The Zimbra Collaboration Suite, as it is known, is built with a number of open source components, including Postfix, MySQL and Apache.
After a successful trial the institute deployed the professional edition, which is the only one to include Outlook's MAPI compatibility, for 150 end users in February this year at a cost of about $US1000 per year.
Zimbra's ability to be extended with Ajax "Zimlets" is also attractive to Cartwright, as is the mobile support.
"Zimbra is working very well and the main issue I have is with the Outlook connector, which is good but still has bugs," he said, adding it is being worked on.
"The other issue is the support which is decent but could be better. The wiki and forums are good but in terms of the paid network edition you shouldn't have to rely on the forums to work things out. The support could be snappier in terms of a response but the security support is good."
Cartwright said Zimbra has a good level of default security and is easy to install and configure even for non-Linux people.
"I like things to be changing," he said. "Some IT managers may like things to stay the same but with Microsoft things can take five years to change."
The institute is running Zimbra in a virtual machine on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and uses open source software for servers and some of its 400 desktops.
Cartwright said Zimbra is becoming a viable competitor to Exchange and Notes, and when version 5.0 comes out in Q3 this year it will be "a really strong contender".