(Ping! Zine Web Tech Magazine) – In today’s business world, keeping in contact with company partners and clientele is not only a good idea, but vital to making a profit. To accomplish such success, it’s important that those looking to collaborate have the latest state of the art software tools to keep up with important events, organize contacts and manage necessary tasks.
As a web hosting provider, offering your customer base an email solution that fully suits their needs is a great way to keep them happy and help them fully utilize your core offerings. One leader in the market of web-based communication, collaboration and office productivity software is Open-Xchange. The OX platform leads the way in offering hosting providers and telcos the opportunity to keep customers for the long-term with a simplified interface.
Since its launch, providers to partner with the company have included the likes of 1&1 Internet, Network Solutions, KPN, Host Europe Group and others.
Ping! Zine recently had the chance to catch up with Open-Xchange CEO Rafael Laguna to gain his perspective on the ever-evolving Cloud industry and to find out exactly what his company’s doing to stay ahead of the curve.
Laguna: Well, we are the coolest webmail UI you can get, all responsive, HTML5, beautiful – of course. We do all that to make people actually use it – the more eyeball time you catch, the more you can communicate. From within the webmailer we offer upsells to more premium email features – from syncing with your phone via Active Sync or CardDav/CalDav, Outlook connectivity to full blown Cloud collaboration and office productivity. Webmail is one of the on-boarding applications, like Cloud. OX App Suite offers a whole suite around those to increase customer engagement and ARPU.
In July, you announced that Open-Xchange had secured $20 million in series C funding. How can such a large increment not only benefit your company, but the market as a whole?
Laguna: Anything that adds to the SaaS, PaaS and IaaS ecosystem that is available to service providers adds to the possibilities providers have. We will be spending this money on expanding our application portfolio. More things to sell, more eyeball time, more recirculation = more money.
You place a large focus on the earning potential of email; exactly how can a provider using Open-Xchange see a revenue boost by relying on your service?
Laguna: Look at what Yahoo´s Marissa Meyer recently wrote about Email: “Email is the ultimate daily habit. It’s often the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing before going to bed.” (http://yodel.yahoo.com/blogs/product-news/introducing-yahoo-mail-12773.html) This is how important email is – but not only to traffic. It increases customer retention – people using email services are less likely to churn on other services either, email is very sticky. Second, people spend a lot of time working on their email (and files and in office productivity apps). This time can be used for ad-driven business, recirculation and as the app store front to sell additional applications. And last but not least, email is still the information hub of most of our web activities. Who runs the hub has a lot of opportunities to participate in adjacent business by expanding the web app portfolio.
Back in March, you guys actually launched an open source browser-based productivity suite called “OX Documents”. Why did you see a need for more direct access to word processing via the web browser?
Laguna: Cloud offerings only make sense, if you can do something with the files once they are in the cloud. Cloud collaboration only happens, if there are apps that collaborate on the files without having to download them. But as cloud is all about sharing, we found that compatibility with the existing file formats is another big inhibitor to adoption. We found that there is no cloud office productivity suite that works properly with the big office file formats from Microsoft and OpenOffice. Either one or the other is not supported, or it is the app that screws up the documents formats and content. Being able to hire many of the OpenOffice core development team we suddenly had the means to change this and create a web office suite that is fully compatible with both formats, taking down the barriers of cloud collaboration adoption.
What kind of collaborative advantages can businesses get from using Open-Xchange?
Laguna: First of all, businesses can choose a service provider they trust – not a small advantage in the crazy PRISM times we live in. They can even run it themselves, being their own provider, if they trust no one. Now having a trusted Cloud Application Suite they can move all commodity desktop apps into the browser, saving them a lot of money, enabling BYOD and reducing desktop management cost significantly. Last but not least, they now have a centralized system that is available on all their devices, enabling collaboration inside the company on contacts, calendars, tasks, files etc, thus avoiding redundancies and unfortunate overlaps – gathering the knowledge of the company in one place.
You mentioned the government’s PRISM scandal. Earlier this month, we saw two encrypted email services (Lavabit and Silent Circle) shut down amid the possibility they were used by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. As you noted, Open-Xchange allows users to select a provider they trust. Can you talk a bit more about the overall approach Open-Xchange is taking towards government surveillance and data requests amid the PRISM fallout?
Laguna: Open-Xchange will not provide any means to work around government requirements. But government requirements are different in different countries and they are different depending on the size of the provider. Also, there are usually softer regulations for in-house services. So freedom of choice when it comes to choosing your provider or even being your own provider is our answer to the PRISM concerns. Here is the cheat sheet for choosing a service:
First of all the whole solution needs to be also available as software – for the provider to run it on their own premises or for a user / company deciding to run it themselves. This way the entity running the software has full control over the locality/jurisdiction and over the security options of the infrastructure: Secure SMTP, Encrypted File Systems, Certificates, HTTPS access to web services, password hashing and salting, encrypted databases, third party mail encryption / PGP / GnuPG, key management (by provider / by user) – all these things define the security level of the system and they should be under the control of the one running the software and providing the service.
Thus this excludes all solutions offered only – even partially – as a service. Obviously Open-Xchange offers everything as software.
Second, you need to know what the software does. The software should not “phone home” in an uncontrolled / unknown way. It should not do things the provider cannot be aware of. For full transparency full disclosure is required, thus the software needs to be also available in source code / Open Source, so that no black-box can be hidden inside the software.
Third, the software should have an ecosystem of third party ISVs that offer add-on’s and backend components to build the solution as secure and save and with the features the provider wants it to have.
How has the cloud revolution helped enhance Email services?
Laguna: Ubiquitous availability is the biggest advance we have seen. The cloud revolution invented webmail, allowing for cheap over-the-top Email services that were unavailable before. So we went from some 400 million Email users in 1995 to 3-4 billion today, growing by 500 million every year. Email is by far the most successful web app there is, even so we have heard stories of its demise. The second benefit is that we can offload some of the stuff that was previously done with email to other cloud apps, like cloud collaboration. Email shouldn’t be a file transporter, cloud storage does this so much better. But we still need Email for notification – hey, Rafael has shared this directory with you, click here…
So Email became the Autobahn of the cloud revolution, the transport infrastructure for everything asynchronous.
Where do you see Open-Xchange headed? Are there any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Laguna: We will be showing and announcing bunch of very cool stuff at our Summit ’13 in Hamburg on September 26 ( http://summit.open-xchange.com ). We are putting our fresh money at good use, I promise!
Rafael Laguna is CEO and co-founder of Open-Xchange, providing leadership and strategic vision across the organization. Rafael has extensive experience in enterprise software, having previously held the position of VP Marketing and Business Development at SUSE Linux as well as being CEO of Micado, and also acts in an advisory role for the Open Source Business Foundation.