Today, Zimbra announced that it will be forging a strategic relationship with America's second largest ISP: Comcast. Although the companies aren't yet releasing many details about the fruit the partnership should one day bear, it's clear that based on the services Zimbra has to offer in the area of browser-based e-mail, group calendaring, and document collaboration, Comcast is ready to take a serious Web 2.0 plunge. According to my colleague Dan Farber, the first offering to come from the deal will be called SmartZone. To date, Zimbra boasts of 6,000,000 paid subscribers to its $28 per user per year solution, the Zimbra Collaboration Server. Zimbra doesn't run ZCS as a service. As Zimbra has designed it, ZCS is a solution that companies can take behind their firewalls for intranet implementation, or service providers can use ZCS to add to the portfolios of services they offer to their users.
ARPU, otherwise known as Average Revenue Per User is a common metric used to gauge the health of telecommunications companies and as a result, those companies are often looking to augment their services menus with new offerings that can drive their ARPU up. That said, while a ZCS seat cost $28 per user per year for the behind the firewall version, there's no telling how much exactly a services provider like Comcast might charge per seat to use its mulit-tenant version (although it will probably be less).
The news is about as big as news gets for Zimbra. The fish that the company could have landed don't get much bigger than Comcast with an estimated 20 million customers. I had a chance to interview the company's co-founder Scott Dietzen about the news (you can stream the podcast version of the interview using the player above, download it, or if you're subscribed to my podcasts, it'll show up on your computer and/or MP3 player automatically). Given the portalesque roll that Comcast's home page plays to a lot of its customers, a deal with a company like Zimbra makes a lot of sense. But compared to similar unified collaboration offerings from companies like IBM and Microsoft, ZCS is still missing some key DNA -- for example integration with instant messenging and the sort of "presence" detection that goes along with it. In my interview with Dietzen, he clearly agrees on the importance of presence, particularly with respect to a player like Comcast that's already big in the VoIP business. VoIP is invariably one of the services that's paired with presence detection.
Anyway, Dietzen took any and all questions and it he gave a great interview. Be sure to give it a listen when you get the chance.