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Benefits of Amazon SES in the enterprise

Marketing firms and online gaming companies often look for less expensive ways to send bulk email to customers or would-be buyers. Here's a look at what Amazon SES has to offer.

What is Amazon SES and how could my enterprise benefit from it?

The Amazon Simple Email Service is a pay-per-use email distribution engine. This Simple Mail Transfer Protocol server distributes email to recipients through applications such as Microsoft Outlook or any SaaS platform that generates email and needs an SMTP server for delivery.

Within the context of AWS, SES works with applications running in Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) or Elastic Beanstalk. SES is not a platform used to compose email messages or maintain lists of email addresses. Unlike other email distribution services, Amazon uses lessons learned from sending email messages to its massive retail customer base. SES is available in Amazon's US-East, US-West and EU-Ireland regions, allowing consumers to place applications close to endpoints to take advantage of low latency and availability.

Amazon SES, however, isn't the only email service out there. Companies such as iContact, SendGrid and Mandrill are some of the more prominent SMTP players. Unlike Amazon SES, these providers come with value-added services such as Web-based user interfaces for creating and sending HTML-based email, detailed link tracking and open rate reporting. In many cases, a dedicated service representative will help you manage email campaigns and list quality.

There are also benefits to using Amazon SES for bulk messaging. In addition to competitive pay-per-use pricing, Internet service providers trust that messages coming from SES are from a proven source. Amazon actively monitors various metrics, such as hard bounces and complaints to ensure questionable content is not being distributed. If it detects any abnormalities, SES will place your email account on probation. Therefore, email senders must also follow best practices and send high-quality, relevant content, maintain hygienic email lists, and keep bounce and complaint rates to less than 5% and 0.1%, respectively.

While the default SES method of identifying email bounce and complaint messages is to monitor email messages returned to the reply-to email address after they're sent, you can configure Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) to capture this information more effectively. Using SES, applications that distribute high volumes of email can tap into these SNS messages to aggregate the metrics into triggers and highlight potential issues or offer real-time statistics.

If any Amazon SES sender generates a hard bounce, SES automatically adds this address to a suppression list that will prevent any other Amazon SES sender from emailing the user.

Get started with Amazon SES
If you decide to use Amazon SES, it's easy to set up. From your AWS control panel, click the SES Email Sending Service icon under App Services. You can begin using the service immediately -- on a limited scale of 200 messages per day. After successfully requesting production access, your email quota will increase to 100,000 per day, with a set number of transactions-per-second limit of five emails per second.

These quota limits will gradually increase, based on email sending patterns, bounce rate and complaint metrics. Typically, these limits increase from 100,000 to 250,000 to as high as 500,000, but you can also initiate a manual request here.

Amazon SES offers a mailbox simulator application for testing various email sending scenarios. Bounce and complaint metrics aren't recorded in this testing environment.

Amazon SES pricing
Amazon SES offers competitive, low-cost email delivery. The first 62,000 messages per month are free when they originate from EC2 or Elastic Beanstalk. Prices go up to 10 cents per thousand messages after that. Attachments are 12 cents per gigabyte sent; the only fee is a data-transfer-out fee that is similar to EC2 data-transfer-out fees.

About the author:
Russ Vanderpool, MSCS and MBA, is a technologist interested in using cloud technology to deliver solutions, help companies better serve customers and identify new businesses. He has hands-on experience as an architect/developer and a business adviser across the finance, energy, education, technology and nonprofit sectors. Russ has architected and built a cloud infrastructure for a green tech company, and while working for Japan's largest systems integration firm, he developed proprietary object-oriented database visualization software for that market.

This was last published in August 2014

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