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Amazon WorkMail takes on Exchange, Gmail

AWS introduced the Amazon WorkMail cloud email management service this week, but does it have what it takes to compete with Exchange and Gmail?

Amazon is preparing to launch its own back-end email service to replace Microsoft Exchange and Gmail, but IT pros are in no rush to buy in.

Amazon WorkMail is slated to be rolled out in the second quarter and is currently in preview in the US (East) and Europe (Ireland) regions. WorkMail offers reduced complexity and cost, since users don’t have to manage Exchange servers as they have had to on-premises with upgrades, patching and the like, according to AWS.

WorkMail was requested by users fed up with their current email providers, Amazon said, but it will still have an uphill battle to climb to unseat incumbents in this market. Amazon WorkMail’s competitors are Microsoft Exchange Online, part of Office365, and Google’s Gmail for Work, both of which are well-established.

WorkMail vs. Gmail and Exchange

Amazon has a solid, viable product, according to Paul Robichaux, principal architect for Office365 and Exchange at Summit7 Systems Inc., a consulting firm and AWS reseller partner based in Huntsville, Ala. But Exchange Online comes as part of the Office365 package, which includes a great many more services such as instant messaging and unified messaging, as well as the Office productivity suite.

Independent managed Exchange hosting players might have a tough time competing with Amazon WorkMail, according to William Fellows, co-founder and analyst with 451 Research, based in Boston. But the market also remembers another cloud company’s foray into cloud email management services, in which VMware acquired Zimbra from Yahoo! in 2007, but sold the company off in 2013 after little success.

"That’s the benchmark by which Amazon WorkMail is going to be judged," Fellows said.

And users of hosted Exchange services such as AppRiver say they are happy where they are; it will take more than what Amazon offers to draw them away.

"Email, while simple, is a critical thing for our company and just needs to work," said Craig Loop,, director of networking for Realty Data Company., a Naperville, Ill., company that sells property information to mortgage bankers. "It’s not something we need to jump to make a change to and nothing besides the lower cost is compelling so far about the Amazon offering."

That’s not to say no one is interested. Google Apps users who find it difficult to manage are eying Amazon WorkMail.

"The Gmail client is great, but there are feature gaps," said Jim O’Neill, CIO for Hubspot Inc., a marketing software as a service company based in Cambridge, Mass, which uses Google Apps.

Hubspot has found booking conference rooms through Google Calendar complex, for example, and will test out WorkMail, O’Neill said.

Some on-premises Exchange users also say they’ll try WorkMail.

"We use our Exchange Server a lot for relaying mail for our customers who don’t necessarily have their own email server," said Phil Jones, vice president for Bluebird Auto Rental Systems, a Dover, N.J.-based firm that handles credit card transactions for auto rental centers worldwide.

It might make more sense to do that in the cloud, where the rest of the application lives, than on-premises, Jones said, and he is interested in the fact that WorkMail will integrate with his customers’ Outlook email clients.

The cloud email management competitive landscape

Amazon WorkMail is priced at $4.00 per user per month for a 50 GB mailbox following a 30-day free trial, $6.00 if the customer wants integration with 200 GB capacity in the Amazon Zocalo file-sharing service, renamed Amazon WorkDocs with this release. Messages of up to 30 MB in size can be sent through WorkMail.

Amazon WorkMail comes with a migration tool that administrators can use to move mailboxes from on-premises email servers to the service, and works with any mobile device that supports the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol, including Apple’s iPad and iPhone, Google Android, and Windows Phone.

It has built in security features such as user-controlled encryption through integration with the AWS Key Management Service, as well as mobile device security features such as the ability to require device encryption, require that devices lock, specify requirements for device password strength, and wipe devices remotely. It’s integrated with the Active Directory access management service as well as the Outlook email client and has calendaring features, including the ability to schedule resources such as conference rooms and the ability to share calendars.  Users can choose which geographic region to place email data in, and it will stay there.

Microsoft’s Exchange Online, by comparison, is $4.00 per user per month for a 50 GB mailbox, but its message size is limited to 25 MB, and encryption requires the purchase of Microsoft Azure Rights Management, which is available for $2.00 per user per month. Users can create and import their own RMS keys into Exchange Online, and Microsoft reps said the company is planning on supporting Azure Key Vault in Exchange Online in the future.

Exchange Online costs $8.00 per user per month if users want some specialized features such as data loss prevention, a feature not included in WorkMail. Exchange Online and Office365 also allow users control over data localization.

Gmail for Work comes as part of Google Apps for Work, which includes, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Hangouts, and Sites, and the whole package costs $5.00 per user per month. Gmail for Work comes with 30 GB inboxes, as well as documents integration; for $10.00 per user per month customers can get additional features such as email archiving and audit logging.

Gmail has encryption between data centers, and just this week released End-to-End, a Chrome extension that encrypts information between a browser and the intended recipient. Gmail also supports multi-factor authentication, and guarantees data localization through its Safe Harbor statement. Gmail can be integrated with Active Directory and shared calendaring with the service is possible through a plugin that syncs Google Apps with Outlook.

Gmail for Work and Exchange Online both also offer guarantees of 99.9% uptime, something WorkMail does not have yet.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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