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Amazon & the Enterprise: Secure Email Hits IT Sweet Spot

New WorkMail cloud service for email and calendaring adds to the file storage and sharing service plus virtual desktop capabilities that Amazon offers the enterprise.

I don't know about you, but I'm sort of intrigued by the idea of using the same company to order office supplies, buy outfits to wear to work, and serve up corporate email. I'm talking Amazon, of course.

For those of you who missed the news and aren't sure what the heck I'm talking about, last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced a managed business email and calendaring service called Amazon WorkMail. Relax, this isn't yet another vendor's gambit to improve the user experience with a new tool aimed at easing communications and collaboration -- although it very well may do that, especially when used in conjunction with Amazon's other enterprise cloud tools.

WorkMail isn't about a new interface. In fact, it lets users handle their email and calendaring tasks as usual from their existing email application -- be that on the desktop, via a Web browser, or native Apple iOS or Android app for mobile devices. And, because WorkMail integrates with Microsoft Active Directory and provides native support for Outlook, users don't even have to change their login credentials or install a plug-in or other additional software when using WorkMail.

As seamless as AWS has tried to make WorkMail for users, that's not the primary goal. What WorkMail is really about is easing the IT strain associated with managing and securing email server software and hardware on premises. WorkMail means no more email servers on premises to manage and secure, no software licenses to purchase and maintain, no upgrades to stay on top of, patches to install, and so on. IT can leave those responsibilities to AWS.

That's all good and well, but the security capabilities packaged in WorkMail really are what should help AWS distinguish its managed email service from any other cloud email service option out there, including Microsoft's own, suggested No Jitter blogger and systems integrator Neal Shact in a phone conversation. More precisely, he said, the ease of encryption should catch some attention, especially in the wake of the Sony hack. "It's about time companies start thinking about the security of their email."

With WorkMail, AWS encrypts data in transit, using SSL, and data at rest, giving IT control over the encryption keys via its key management service. Of particular interest to companies that have shied away from the cloud for data sensitivity reasons should be that AWS lets customers determine where, by region, their data gets stored.

For mobile security, WorkMail will rely on the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol to enforce security policies specified for users' devices. Using the AWS Management Console, businesses will be able to assure use of device encryption and device lock mechanisms, as well as set password strength parameters and remotely wipe devices as necessary, AWS said.

The other big selling point for WorkMail will be cost, Shact said. "As for as I'm concerned, Amazon owns the cloud. ... It has economies of scale that are unmatched and can aggressively price-cut to keep things that way," he added.

In the case of WorkMail, AWS is charging $4 per user per month, with 50 gigabytes of mailbox storage allotted to each user. Buy Amazon WorkDocs as well, and AWS will charge $6 per user per month and give each user 50 GB of mailbox storage plus 200 GB of WorkDocs storage. This would be a logical bundling, given that integration between the two means users can attach files stored in WorkDocs to an email and replace an existing email attachment with a WorkDocs link, plus "securely save attachments to WorkDocs with a single click." (For those of you wondering where WorkDocs comes from, coincident with the WorkMail announcement, AWS rebranded its Zocalo file storage and sharing service as WorkDocs to make the service naming "more consistent and familiar" to users.)

AWS now offers a trio of enterprise IT applications: WorkMail and WorkDocs, plus a virtual desktop called Amazon WorkSpaces. As No Jitter blogger and consultant Dave Michels pointed out to me, WorkSpaces is a virtual desktop infrastructure service that includes tools like Microsoft Office and, when put together with WorkDocs, becomes like Office 365 or Google Docs. WorkMail fills in the gaps by adding email and calendaring capabilities. "My initial thoughts are very positive on [WorkMail] based on the headlines," he wrote in an email.

Shact agreed: "I don't think there is anybody on the planet who would argue that Amazon doesn't have a core competency in providing Web services. Email is just one more service."

Now one has to wonder where AWS will head next with its "Work" line. I'm not sure how successful or not Amazon has been with the Mayday click-to-help desk application for the Fire tablet, but with video an increasingly important element of the enterprise communications story, I wouldn't be surprised to see that capability become part of the lineup in one way or another. As Michels noted, Mayday "shows it can do two-way video with WebRTC."

Amazon declined my request to discuss its enterprise communications vision, saying only that it delivers what customers want. And why wouldn't it want to leverage the power of AWS in meeting those needs?

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