VMware (VMW) has sold Zimbra, its Microsoft (MSFT) Exchange alternative, to Telligent. The VAR Guy isn't shocked, considering VMware has been selling off non-core assets and Zimbra's website had barely been updated this year. But what exactly does Zimbra's sale mean to VMware and its channel partners? Here's the analysis.

First, a history lesson. VMware acquired Zimbra, an open source email platform, from Yahoo in January 2010. VMware's original goal was to promote Zimbra on-premises and through cloud services providers -- especially heads-up vs. Microsoft Exchange. In some ways the strategy worked. By January 2013, Zimbra was considered a surprise alternative to Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps in government markets.

Recent Silence

But the wins didn't come often enough. By February 2013, The VAR Guy openly speculated about whether VMware would keep or sell Zimbra. By May 2013, The VAR Guy wondered if Zimbra would surface in VMware's vCloud Hybrid Service. But nothing ever came of it. Clearly, VMware was shopping Zimbra.

And now Telligent -- which focuses on enterprise social software -- has acquired Zimbra. And going forward, Telligent will be known as Zimbra. Telligent CEO Patrick Brandt will lead the combined company. It sounds like Intel Capital, NXT Capital Venture Finance, BDCA, Hall Financial Group and VMware will each invest in the new Zimbra -- which offers a "unified social collaboration suite built for the post-PC era."

In a prepared statement, Brandt said: "Zimbra enables traditional collaboration through features such as email, calendar sharing and address books, while Telligent supports real-time collaboration via chat, social networking, online communities and more. The combination of the two will enable companies to easily share documents and ideas instantly, providing true unified collaboration." 

Big Questions

The VAR Guy's key questions going forward:

1. Partners and Customers: Zimbra says the combined company will have a global base of more than 5,000 customers and 400 partners. But The VAR Guy has been hearing that 400 partner figure for several years. Has there been any partner growth?

2. Cloud Computing: Generally speaking, Zimbra has not hosted its own software and instead deferred to telcos, Internet service providers and cloud services providers to host the software. Will that approach continue?

3. Rivalries: Does Zimbra still see an opportunity to disrupt Exchange (on premises) and Office 365 and Google Apps (in the cloud)? If so, what are the opportunities for partners?

4. Marketing: How will Zimbra build a stronger brand while battling cloud and enterprise software giants?

5. Open Source: Zimbra is an open source platform. What steps will Zimbra take to engage and excite that open source community?

That's all for now. The VAR Guy will check in with his Zimbra sources for more insights.