Amazon's next targets: Microsoft Exchange and Gmail

Amazon debuts WorkMail, cloud-hosted email for business, but its cloud still draws more attention than its desktop enterprise offerings

Businessman shooting arrows at a target and failing
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Following a flurry of left-hook announcements aimed at its cloud competition over the past few months, Amazon is going for a body blow with corporate cloud-hosted email business.

Word of Amazon's new Workmail service began circulating on Wednesday, with a full launch due in Q2 of this year. Even with the scant details currently available, it's clear Amazon's ambition is to heavily bait the hook and lure business users away from Google's Gmail and Microsoft Exchange.

Most of WorkMail's offerings, as described in detail by Forbes's Ben Kepes, should sound familiar to any IT administrator. Aside from hosted email, it also provides calendaring and resource booking, contact lists and task management, and public folders. In addition, it's meant to integrate with either cloud-based or on-premises directory services. It should work transparently with existing email clients like Outlook, as well as any client that uses Exchange ActiveSync, but a Web client such as Gmail or Office 365 is available.

Amazon rides hard on other advantages in security and ease of migration. With security, Amazon ties in another recent announcement: KMS (Key Managament Service), its cloud-hosted encryption key vault. Keys from KMS, including those provided by the customer, can be used to encrypt email at rest. Users also have control over the geographic regions in which their WorkMail data is stored. Finally, Amazon is said to be providing ways to migrate from an existing Exchange store, although it isn't clear if other providers (such as Google) will get tooling by launch time. The service is set to cost $4 per user per month, but email boxes allow only 50GB per user.

Amazon has established itself as a major -- if not the -- leader of cloud infrastructure. Apart from AWS, few offerings have set standards, even if only de facto, for how the cloud works. But it has made less of a splash when attempting to horn in on the enterprise desktop. WorkSpaces was meant to compete with VMware for providing virtual desktops at competitive rates, but left open questions of compatibility, offering what amounted to a reskinned version of Windows Server 2008, not Windows 7. Zocalo document-management service was designed as a further complement to Workspaces, but held little incentive for anyone already using Box, Dropbox, or Google.

WorkMail, by contrast, seems more deliberately designed to sway new users, in big part by providing the kind of granular control over data -- encryption in particular -- that other mail providers presumably skimp over or dance around. The major competition, Microsoft, already has some of the same functionality, if not quite in the same form. Microsoft has added message encryption to Office 365, but mainly as a way to protect individual messages in transit. While Microsoft offers geolocation for customer data, it's in an automatically determined form. According to its documentation for Office 365 users, "the customer’s country or region, which the customer’s administrator inputs during the initial setup of the services, determines the primary storage location for that customer’s data."

[This article's subhead was modified to remove an inaccuracy.]

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