A New Year, a New Zimbra

Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.0 GA came out today or was it yesterday / last year? After reading the release notes(PDF) and doing a complete backup, I upgraded both my work and personal Zimbra servers. I have been using Zimbra for as my work and personal email server for... oh... something close to two years now. Over that time there have been a number of upgrades and they have always gone smoothly.

What's new with Zimbra 5.0?

Well, you could read the release notes to see, but I'll give a brief summary of some of the things that stand out in my mind:

  • Briefcase - A file storage area with a nice file manager
  • Tasks - Create to-do lists and manage tasks through to completion
  • Instant Messaging - Beta - User to user chat
  • More sharing - Mail folders can be shared, new HTTP calendar sharing, share Briefcase files
  • Documents - Now out of beta... online text and spreadsheet documents
  • Faster login - They split up the javascript into functional pieces so you don't have to load everything at login time
  • Little touches - folder summaries, public or private calendar entries, updated help system, email priorities, enhanced tagging, and automatic http to https redirection

While I'm a little disappointed they removed the Yahoo and MSN instant messaging protocols from the IM feature (marked as beta for this release), overall it is a really nice upgrade. They may add back the other IM protocols in a future release.

The Admin Side

Most Zimbra users only see the user side of Zimbra but I can tell you that the admin side is quite impressive. After upgrading, be sure to login to the Admin Console to enable any desired new features as many of them are off by default and configurable on a Class of Service basis. If you would like to give different users access to different feature or combinations of features, create additional Class of Service types, configure them as desired, and then assign your users to the appropriate COS.

The Zimbra Admin Console has gotten a major upgrade with this release. The interface is now multi-windowed within a single browser window.

One can now do advanced searches and even save them if desired. Included is a handful of useful saved searches for single-click access to find inactive, locked, or admin accounts.

Many more features are available in the area of server monitoring and usage stats via the Sessions tab that shows web client, admin console, and imap sessions. Secure Certificates can now be managed from the GUI. The visual mail queue monitoring and management has been enhanced with the ability to see complete email messages rather than just the headers as in previous releases. My queues are always empty so I've not been able to play with that too much.

The Upgrade Experience

There are some known issues mentioned in the release notes but I had absolutely no problems upgrading from the 4.5.10 release to the 5.0 release. As previously mentioned, I've been running Zimbra for a long while now and I've upgraded it many times. It has always gone smoothly... but I do always make sure to do a complete system backup before I do the upgrade. The upgrade ease is notable because Zimbra consists of a number of major open source components (Postfix, OpenLDAP, MySQL, spamassassin, ClamAV, Apache, Jetty) in addition to a custom Java application (that produces the web-client and admin console) and IMAP/POP server. With this release they switched from the Tomcat Java application server to Jetty. Also added is an IMAP/POP proxy server based on nginx.

My two Zimbra deployments are within OpenVZ containers so by doing an rsync of the VPS private disk area while it is still running, stopping the VPS to do a final rsync pass, and then starting the VPS back up for the upgrade... makes it very easy to rollback to the previous release if necessary.

Upgrading consists of 1) downloading the new release, 2) extracting it, 3) and running the install.sh script they include. The install.sh will search for the current install, find it, do a database integrity check, shut down the various services, remove the old packages, install the new packages, and upgrade all of the database and LDAP data, and restart the services.

On my somewhat small Zimbra deployments (25 or so users), the upgrade process usually takes about 10 minutes or less... although on fairly large deployments (Zimbra can easily handle tens of thousands of users), the upgrade process can take several hours.

It remains to be seen if the added features and the switch from Tomcat to Jetty with this release lead to more, the same or less system resource usage. The new release has only been running for a few hours so we'll see how it performs. So far, nothing seems different. Zimbra is quite a resource hog with some fairly high system requirements(PDF)... but could you expect different from a full-featured(PDF) email system targeted as a replacement for Microsoft Exchange Server?

Just to clarify, I'm running the Open Source edition which is totally open source and cost free. If I needed to support Microsoft Outlook clients (other than via IMAP/POP) and/or mobile devices I'd have to spring for the Network edition.

Want a Zimbra account?

I've made this offer in the past and I'll make it again... anyone affiliated with any of the LUGs in Montana who wants a montanalinux.org Zimbra email address can have one. Just email me (dowdle@montanalinux.org) a request for an account and I'll process it when I get a chance.

Want to see what Zimbra looks like before you give it a try? Then check out their somewhat dated flash movies: Zimbra Web Client, Zimbra Admin Console or a Demo Account.

I would have included some screenshots here but after doing all of this typing, I got lazy. :)

Be sure to check out Zimbra's fine documentation.

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More Zimbra demo movies and pictures

Thanks for the review of the open source version, Scott!

For those interested in the passive experience, we have movies of 4.5.10 here (see the Quicktime versions for high res):

Zimbra 4.5 Movies

Also, we posted a blog about the network profession edition Zimbra 5 release, including various screen shots, here:

Zimbra 5 blog

Happy New Years!

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