Amazon Web Services Takes Aim At Microsoft With New Cloud Email Service

Amazon Web Services now wants to host your business email in the cloud.

Amazon WorkMail, a new service released in preview on Wednesday, offers secure, enterprise-grade email that's compatible with Microsoft Outlook and other popular email clients. Users can choose encryption keys, select the location in which they want their data to reside and pay only for the mailboxes they create.

With WorkMail, AWS is clearly challenging Microsoft by making a play for its rival's large base of Exchange customers.

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"WorkMail was designed to work in today’s data-rich, email-intensive environments. Each inbox has room for up to 50 gigabytes of messages and attachments. Messages can range in size all the way up to 30 megabytes," wrote Jeff Barr, AWS' chief evangelist, on the company's blog.

WorkMail is compatible with Microsoft's Active Directory, allowing users to sign in through their Outlook clients with their current corporate credentials. The service also can be accessed through a web client on most popular browsers, and works with any mobile device that supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol.

Amazon also has integrated into WorkMail its document-sharing and collaboration service, unveiled last year under the name Zocalo and just rebranded in conjunction with the release of the new mail product as WorkDocs.

One way Amazon is trying to differentiate its email service is with advanced security controls.

The IaaS leader is touting WorkMail's encryption key management with S/MIME or SSL; full control over data location; stored data encryption using KMS keys; message scanning for malware, viruses and spam; and mobile device management features by which administrators can impose security restrictions and remotely wipe devices.

Aater Suleman, CEO of Flux7 Labs, an Austin, Texas-based solution provider that helps customers build AWS architecture, told CRN that while many other vendors have SaaS-based email solutions on the market, WorkMail offers a fundamentally different value proposition because of its security features and Amazon's market dominance.

"AWS is clearly going in the direction of becoming a complete IT platform rather than an IaaS provider," Suleman told CRN, and "WorkMail is another step in the same direction."

Security is always the top concern when using cloud-based email, Suleman said. Large companies typically won't let third parties that aren't thoroughly vetted manage their email because internal data has to travel on unmonitored channels. But AWS is different.

"For many large organizations and governments, AWS has already been vetted and approved as a vendor of computing capacity. They use AWS for company infrastructure and already have a secure channel to send and receive data to and from AWS. Trusting AWS with email, especially given the large benefits, is a significantly simpler decision for them," Suleman told CRN.

AWS has further strengthened its position by offering features like message encryption, which are missing from rival products, including Google Apps, he said.

"Given our view of the AWS customer base, especially the large enterprises and the public sector, we see a lot of use for WorkMail and expect high penetration. For companies not using AWS today, this offers yet another reason to consider this move as the value-add has further increased," Suleman told CRN.

Amazon is offering a 30-day free trial in which potential customers can serve each of 25 users with 50 gigabytes of storage. AWS also is providing a mailbox migration tool to facilitate new customers coming on board.

After the free trial, the service will cost $4 per user per month for a 50-GB mailbox.