In the wake of Microsoft's Windows Azure announcement on Monday, it seems Yahoo will not be left out of the cloud-computing buzz.

Yahoo's Zimbra is tapping into the cloud to deliver a collaboration platform for educational institutions. Through Zimbra Hosted, universities now have access to the Zimbra Collaboration Suite without having to manage on-premises software and hardware.

Yahoo has established a foothold in the university market. More than 500 educational institutions are using Zimbra's collaboration and communications software. But its customers wanted more options and flexibility for delivery and management, according to Satish Dharmaraj, Zimbra cofounder and Yahoo vice president.

"Zimbra is the partner of choice with the only open-collaboration solution on the market that is built from the ground up to offer both on-site and hosted options," Dharmaraj said. "With the new Zimbra Hosted, we have removed the challenge of managing thousands of mailboxes and encouraged schools to rebrand Zimbra as their own, creating a communications portal that connects all key audiences."

Leveraging Yahoo's Cloud Assets

Zimbra Hosted leverages Yahoo's worldwide infrastructure to offer service level agreements with 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime, 24/7 support, and built-in disaster-recovery features.

By taking advantage of cloud computing, Yahoo said, Zimbra offers access to its tools without associated infrastructure and administration costs. Zimbra Hosted users don't have to implement software upgrades, pay for maintenance, or add additional hardware.

Kansas State University is among 500 educational institutions tapping Zimbra. With more than 30,000 students, faculty and staff, as well as thousands of alumni, KSU needed a collaboration system with e-mail and a calendar for students and enterprise Relevant Products/Services features for the faculty.

"We evaluated many collaboration systems, and found that there was nothing else on the market that could compare to Zimbra Hosted, which offers superb technology and delivers different tiers of service for our different constituencies," said James Lyall, associate vice provost of IT at KSU. "Additionally, we can retain control over the system through flexible branding and privacy options without worrying about installation, upgrades or maintenance."

Customized Cloud-Based Collaboration

Yahoo touted some of the key features of Zimbra Hosted for education, including control over look, feel and brand options; mobile access on a wide range of handsets; a group scheduling calendar along with RSS and Atom support; data privacy and protection policies; and an ability to integrate with Internet and intranet data, as well as third-party application mashups.

Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said Zimbra is well-regarded in its space. Zimbra's decision to add cloud-computing initiatives comes as no surprise, given Yahoo's resources.

"More and more software and services are moving to the cloud," Sterling said. "There will always be concerns and questions about hosted solutions, but this is the clear direction of the software industry as a whole, including Microsoft, which just released its cloud-based Azure platform yesterday."

Zimbra Hosted is available for students, faculty and alumni. Pricing is per mailbox and varies for different product versions. Yahoo said Zimbra offers substantial discounts for the education market.