Microsoft Exchange, an essential component of many IT environments, has long been a thorn in the side of system administrators who would like to consider open source alternatives to proprietary software. But Zarafa, an open source groupware platform, is rapidly emerging as a formidable alternative to Exchange. And it's now easier than ever to deploy, with the release of official VMware images. Read on for details.

These days, open source software gets along pretty well with its proprietary competitors. LibreOffice can read and write Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Office files, for instance, and Linux hosts now can easily integrate into Microsoft Active Directory environments via bridge software such as that developed by Centrify and Beyond Trust.

But when it comes to Microsoft Exchange, open source typically hasn't fared so well. Most open source email clients that claim to be able to integrate with Exchange do so imperfectly, and replacing Exchange altogether with an open source alternative traditionally has been difficult because there were few good options.

Zarafa: Stretching the Limits of Open Source

That's why Zarafa, an open source groupware platform developed by the company of the same name, is so important. Designed as a full replacement for Exchange, the Zarafa Collaboration Platform offers email, tasks, calendaring and more. Although parts of the platform are proprietary, its core server-side code is fully open source and available under the Affero General Public License.

Designed to run on Linux servers, Zarafa is now easier to deploy thanks to the release of an official Zarafa VMware image based on Univention Corporate Server 3.0. Setting up Zarafa on VMware-based virtual servers is now as simple as downloading the images from the Zarafa site.

Meanwhile, Zarafa is already available as a virtual appliance in the Amazon EC2 cloud, making it simple to deploy it in an easy private-cloud setup. But the release of VMware images should also help promote Zarafa in other cloud environments.

According to emails exchanged with Zarafa representatives, Zarafa images will also "most probably" be released for the KVM hypervisor -- which, unlike most of VMware's products, is fully open source -- as well, but not in the immediate future. We'll keep our eyes out for that move, which will help Zarafa to become an even more full-fledged replacement for Microsoft Exchange.