Amazon Chime re-extends AWS' reach into business productivity

AWS' track record in business productivity is spotty, but Amazon Chime appeals to enterprise IT pros who want all their IT tools in the same shed.

AWS has had mixed results delivering business productivity software to traditional enterprises, but that hasn't stopped the company from trying to break into this competitive sector.

The company introduced Amazon Chime, a unified communications service believed to be built around Biba, the online meeting company Amazon acquired last year. Amazon Chime faces stiff competition on multiple fronts, but it might appeal to AWS customers that want a single hub for all their IT needs, despite Amazon's uneven record with these types of higher-level services.

Amazon Chime provides audio and high-definition video capabilities for meetings, as well as tools for chat and screen sharing of content across desktop and mobile devices. Rather than using a PIN to call in, Chime calls participants directly when the meeting is about to begin. Late participants can notify others through the service. The call also can be synchronized across a user's various devices.

Attendees can mute other lines at any time and, like other services, Amazon Chime lists who is on the call or speaking at any given time. Corporate directories also can be integrated, so IT administrators can control identity and access management.

Craig Loop, director of technology at Realty Data Co., a Naperville, Ill., financial services company, has been wary of using one vendor for too many services, but has softened that position, as his company has gone deeper with AWS. Chime might be the cleaner, more intuitive service that Loop has sought to replace WebEx, and the service also adds on to Realty Data's current AWS environment.

"If you look at the convenience of billing and the integration of systems and playing in the same sandbox, it makes a lot of sense," Loop said.

Connexity, a marketing insights company in Los Angeles, moved to Biba two years ago because it wanted more organizer options at a lower cost than its previous video conferencing vendor, BlueJeans. Biba also met a prerequisite that few on the market could -- life-size video conferencing.

"If we just used voice, then it wouldn't have been a big deal," said Chris Hemphill, vice president of IT at Connexity. "But when you try to use a video conference in a room of more than two people using a laptop, [other services] just don't scale."

Hemphill hasn't installed the new Chime client, but he said there's been little difference in the Biba service since Amazon acquired it. Connexity has a limited footprint in AWS, so Hemphill said he doesn't see an advantage to having both under the same umbrella.

Extend the AWS portfolio, with middling success

This latest expansion of the AWS platform also reflects the company's determination to enter market segments where it believes it can deliver services better and cheaper.

If you look at the convenience of billing and the integration of systems and playing in the same sandbox, it makes a lot of sense.
Craig Loopdirector of technology, Realty Data Co.

"It's a great example of Amazon really understanding a core thing its customers need that is very hard to pull off effectively," said Joe Emison, founder and CTO of BuildFax, an AWS customer.

Amazon has entered an established conferencing market with existing services such as LogMeIn, Citrix GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx. Companies such as Box and Slack have extended their collaboration tools, as well. Some of these services offer more features or product maturity, but a centralized location for all aspects of IT will attract some customers, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research.

Amazon's primary cloud competitors also offer unified communications services as part of their broader business productivity suites, Google G Suite and Microsoft Office 365. AWS may dominate the infrastructure-as-a-service market, but it's not quite ready to compete with Microsoft and Google in the business productivity market.

Amazon doesn't release adoption figures for services such as WorkSpaces, WorkDocs and WorkMail, but users describe them as hit or miss, at best. Emison tested some of these services and found they fell short of other products on the market, but that could be attributed to Amazon's model of product rollouts that have minimum viability, but are expanded over time. He said he'll consider using Chime and will re-evaluate those other services, as AWS continues to absorb more roles within traditional enterprise IT.

"If Amazon has unlimited money, there's no reason why the target shouldn't be completely replacing the IT department and making sure anything you buy as a service is a market they should capture," he said.

The AWS development model is to deliver services that pay for themselves, with resources that expand or shrink depending on demand, Brooks said. This latest attempt to strike at a market it sees as vulnerable also signals that AWS has become more responsive than disruptive, with the exception of some next-gen features, such as AWS Lambda and Alexa, he added.

"As an organization they ... set out to disrupt, and they accomplished that and they're not doing it anymore," Brooks said.

The Amazon Chime service is available in three tiers: a free edition for meetings, messaging and voice or video; a version that offers greater management capabilities and 1 GB of message retention per user for $2.50 per user, per month; and a pro edition with screen sharing and video for as many as 100 users, either in-room or across their devices, and voice over IP support for $15 per user, per month.

Chime also will be available through its partners Level 3 and Vonage by July.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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