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AWS Moves Up the Stack to UCaaS

It's official -- Amazon Web Services has entered the cloud communications market, taking the wraps off a UCaaS offering, called Amazon Chime, and ending months of speculation that the cloud infrastructure giant was planning just such a move up the stack.

Amazon Chime, available here, is a team meeting service that allows one-click launch of audio and video conferences, as well as one-to-one chat, group chat, and content and screen sharing for internal and external users, shared Gene Farrell, VP of Enterprise Applications at AWS, in a pre-briefing with No Jitter. The goal, he added, was to come to market with "differentiating features that improve the meeting experience and do it at a cost that's significantly lower than existing solutions."

AWS started the process of developing Chime by looking at ways to take away typical meeting pain points, such as having to dial PINs and passwords, Farrell said. So, when it's time for your meeting, Amazon Chime will call you, if you'd like, eliminating the need for you to punch in those access sequences.

In addition, Amazon Chime features a visual roster that displays everybody who has joined the meeting, those who have been invited but haven't joined, folks who are running late -- which they can signal by touching a button -- and individuals who have declined. "So it eliminates the constant, 'Who's on the call? Who just joined? Who just left?'" Farrell said. Plus, an icon shows who is speaking as well as the source of any background noise... and then lets participants mute one another's lines to reduce that noise from disrupting the call.

AWS Chime leverages noise-cancelling wideband audio and high-definition video with the aim of delivering "a really crisp video and voice experience on every call," Farrell said. The chat capabilities exist outside the meeting, and inside of it, as well, he added.

AWS takes care of managing the infrastructure and the service, of course, but also offers other perks for IT, Farrell said. For example, Amazon Chime works with existing in-room video systems, integrates with Active Directory, and supports SAML-based single sign-on, so IT can manage users and permissions using existing tools. AWS additionally encrypts all voice, video, and data in transit and at rest.

Amazon Chime is available on a pay-as-you-go basis, with no upfront commitments, in three versions, Farrell said. A free version, Amazon Chime Basic Edition, lets users attend meetings, call another person using voice or video, and use the messaging and chat capabilities. The Plus Edition -- costing $2.50 per user, per month -- adds user management, such as the ability to manage an entire email domain, disable accounts, or configure Active Directory, as well as 1GB per user of message retention. And the Pro Edition -- at $15 per user, per month -- adds the ability to host meetings with screen sharing and video for up to 100 users, and includes support for mobile, laptop, and in-room video along with unlimited VoIP support.

Reception has been positive among private beta testers, including Brooks Brothers, which has historically used a number of meetings, call, and chat apps, said Phillip Miller, IT director for the retailer, in a prepared statement. "We normally have to proactively push adoption for new tools to employees, but after starting a pilot of Amazon Chime, we quickly saw interest grow, with internal adoption now reaching 90% of our corporate staff without any formal rollout or training."

AWS also announced that partners Level 3 and Vonage will be adding Amazon Chime to their UC suites, beginning in the second quarter.

Amazon Chime is the latest of AWS's moves up the stack, following on the rollout of Workspace, virtual desktop service; WorkDocs, for document management and collaboration; WorkMail for email; and Quicksight for business intelligence, Farrell noted. "Each of these was built based on customer feedback, around either problems they were trying to solve because their existing solutions didn't support it or they were looking for tools they could run on the AWS platform as opposed to on prem," he explained. "And as we talked to customers, meetings was an area that they called out as being pretty broken."

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