Amazon Unveils WorkMail, Takes Aim at Exchange, Gmail

Update: January 28, 2015 – 5:15 PM MT – Added additional information from an official Amazon news release and other Amazon messaging that was issued after publication of our original story.

Some big (and somewhat surprising) news today from Amazon: According to articles by Shira Ovide at the Wall Street Journal and Ben Kepes at Forbes, the Amazon Web Services division is wading into the enterprise email market with Amazon WorkMail, a new cloud-based email service that looks to wage war for corporate email marketshare with the likes of Microsoft Exchange, Exchange Online/Office 365, and Google’s Gmail.

In a post on the Amazon Web Services blog, AWS Chief Evangelist Jeff Barr stressed that Amazon WorkMail was designed to work with existing desktop and mobile clients, and that it would work with mobile clients via Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync protocol. Perhaps of particular interest for mid- to large enterprises is WorkMail’s support for a variety of directory services.

“If your organization already has a directory of its own, WorkMail can make use of it via the recently introduced AWS Directory Service,” Barr wrote. “If not, WorkMail will use Directory Service to create a directory for you as part of the setup process.”

Simplicity and Security

Ovide reports that Amazon is stressing “simplicity of use and security” as the key selling points for WorkMail, and that the service will optionally allow IT administrators to use Microsoft Outlook as a front-end for the email service, an approach that Google supports as well with Gmail.

Kepes writes that WorkMail will also provide such enterprise communication staples as global address books, shared calendars and inboxes, and enhanced security that relies on encryption and private keys. Amazon is also touting its track-record as a security-minded cloud provider with more years of experience at cloud-scale IT security than any other provider, which is a claim that is hard to dispute.

Amazon Unveils WorkMail
The web-based interface of Amazon WorkMail, showing a sample inbox. (Image: Jeff Barr/Amazon)


WorkMail Takes Aim at Microsoft, Google, Zoho, and Zimbra

Amazon has become increasingly more aggressive about wading into market areas long-dominated by Microsoft. Amazon Web Services has undoubtedly gobbled up IT dollars from Microsoft’s on-premise Windows Server business, although Microsoft has gained share against Amazon by bolstering their efforts with Microsoft Azure.

Microsoft’s lucrative enterprise messaging business — once a bastion of profitability thanks to the near ubiquity of on-premise Microsoft Exchange — has been under assault in recent years by Google and its Google Apps for Work product suite in general, and Google Mail in particular. The arrival of Amazon WorkMail will undoubtedly not be greeted with great joy by executives in Redmond, a development which translates into Microsoft having to fight on two fronts against Amazon and Google while it races to lock traditional Microsoft Exchange customers into an upgrade path to Office 365 and Exchange Online. Regardless of where your enterprise messaging loyalties lie, you have to admit that things in this market just got a lot more interesting. Time to pop some popcorn and watch the battle ensue.

Amazon WorkMail Pricing and Availability

According to the Forbes article, Amazon WorkMail will offer 50GB of storage and cost $4 per user per month. Prospective customers can also bundle WorkMail with Amazon’s Zocalo file-sharing service, which then results in a $6 per user/per month cost and 200GB of storage on Zocalo. Amazon WorkMail should be widely available in Q2 2015.

The Amazon WorkMail Preview (30-day trial) is now available, and you can sign-up to be on the waiting list on the Amazon WorkMail Preview sign-up page. The trial supports up to 25 users, and includes a mailbox migration tool.

Kepes was one of a handful of journalists who got an early look at WorkMail, and ends his post by sharing his thoughts on seeing WorkMail in action. “My response when seeing the Amazon WorkMail product could be summed up in one word – WOW! AWS continues to innovate, execute and layer more and more services on top of its existing offerings.”

So would you consider choosing Amazon WorkMail over Gmail or Exchange for your organization’s messaging needs? I’d love to hear what you think, so please add a comment to this blog post, or contact me on Twitter or Google+. You can also catch up on my posts in the Petri IT Knowledgebase forums.