Think Microsoft and Google have the business email market tied-up? Think again. Amazon has come up with a new business email service called WorkMail that ties in nicely with its file-sharing service Zocalo, and WorkSpaces, a Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution.

The new service, launched in preview late last week, provides an email and calendar service that aims to cut into a market that has been dominated by Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google for Work Apps. It has three key features that just might help it dent the market leaders.

Interesting Option

While WorkMail is not going to challenge either of these services any time soon, it will be a feasible alternative given that it will be integrated with Amazon’s file-sharing and desktop virtualization apps. Slated for general release in the second quarter of this year, it will cost $4 per user per month for a 50GB mailbox or $6 per user per month for 50GB of mail and 200GB of Zocalo file storage.

This is more expensive than the basic services provided with Google Apps and Office 365, although once you start getting into the higher level subscriptions with these services, the price difference is negligible.

However, that is not what is going to attract IT managers, who are struggling to provide secure, economical services that sit into the existing enterprise infrastructure.

The starting point of any email service has to be its role in the enterprise and as we have seen on numerous occasions, that means integrating with and becoming part of business processes.

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WorkMail Web Application

Add into that the amount of information — including plenty of sensitive data — that is exchanged through email and its clear the application also needs to be tightly secured.

WorkMail Advantages

There are three elements here that will give IT managers food for thought and provide a competitive edge on both Microsoft and Google.

1. Data Storage

Users can decide where exactly they want their emails stored, and that will be a major attraction for European users. Microsoft, for example, just selects the nearest data center, a strategy that clearly has compliance and discovery problems stamped all over it. In Europe, nearest doesn’t necessarily mean the most compliant.

2. Active Directory

The new WorkMail enables integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory, although it integrates with others too. That means it benefits from Active Directory security features. As a result, WorkMail will be able to work with Microsoft Outlook as well as email apps based on Android or Apple at the front end, leaving Amazon to simply provide an automated back-end from the cloud. What this means is that WorkMail users can continue to use their existing corporate email accounts, because WorkMail will only act as the backend and the existing email accounts as the front-end.

3. Encryption

All data in transit is encrypted using industry-standard SSL, while Amazon WorkMail is integrated with the AWS Key Management Service so customers control their own encryption keys. Amazon WorkMail enforces security policies that businesses specify for users’ mobile devices via the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol. Businesses can require device encryption or require device lock, specify requirements for device password strength and wipe devices remotely using the AWS Management Console.

In effect, this means that WorkMail messages are encrypted when they're sent, then decrypted at their destination, with a company key stored in Amazon EC2 cloud, making deciphering by unauthorized users practically impossible.

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WorkMail Calendar

Why Bother?

Amazon has pretty much cornered the public cloud market. Why does it want to get mired in email and the highly competitive productivity space? According to Peter de Santis, Vice President, AWS Compute Services, Amazon is simply responding to demand from existing customers. He explained:

Customers have repeatedly asked us for a business email and calendaring service that is more cost-effective and simpler to manage than their on-premises solution, more secure than the cloud-based offerings available today, and that is backed by the same best-in-class infrastructure platform on which they’re reliably running so many of their current (and future) workloads."

WorkMail provides all that, at least that’s what Amazon claims. Amazon, he says, will do all the heavy-lifting while at the same time providing an enterprises with an agile and relatively cheap email services.

Is there room for this in an already tight market? The  roll-out features are going to cause some companies to think twice, notably its 50GB limit for inboxes and 200GB storage. With Office 365, in contrast, you get 1 TB of OneDrive storage. Nor does Amazon offer the associated functionality of Microsoft Office or all the tools that comes with Google Drive. Still, Amazon has never been one for standing still so this is probably going to be a long-term process with lots more to come.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License Title image by Tambako the Jaguar.