Amazon has unveiled a new cloud-based email and calendar service called WorkMail that is targeted toward business users in competition to components of Office 365 and Google Apps, and as a direct replacement for Microsoft Exchange.

As part of that push to overtake Exchange, data can be accessed from within Outlook, or by using a web-based manager. Mobile users will receive native apps for iOS and Android. Presumably, BlackBerry 10 users can use the Android version through the use of the compatibility layer. Amazon’s Android app store has been available on BlackBerry 10 since the release of BlackBerry 10.3 late in 2014.

Does it compete on price?

In pricing, Amazon comes out ahead, but only slightly in consideration of the services offered. The pricing for Office 365 Business Essentials is $6 per user per month, though it drops to $5 per user per month if one year is paid up front. Similarly, Google Apps for Work is $5 per user per month, dropping to $4.17 per month if one year is paid up front. Amazon WorkMail is $4 per user per month, with no discount for paying for one year up front.

When viewed through applicable discounts, Amazon’s offering is only pennies less than Google. Google Apps has the benefit of added features, including a productivity suite for documents and spreadsheets — a feature which the cheapest tier of Office 365 lacks. Google Apps for Work and Office 365 Business Essentials offer messaging and video calls, which is not included in (and somewhat outside of the scope of) Amazon WorkMail. Notably, Office 365 Business Essentials and Amazon WorkMail offer 50 GB of storage, while Google offers only 30 GB.

What about privacy protections?

Amazon allows corporate purchasers to decide what region of AWS their mail is stored in, which has the benefit of decreasing access latency, and providing compliance for local privacy regulations. The physical location of data in the cloud is a growing concern for businesses, as the cloud industry awaits a verdict in an ongoing case against Microsoft for refusing to turn over emails stored on a data center in Ireland.

WorkMail will also integrate with AWS Key Management Service and Management Console, which allows operators to secure email with TLS, manage group security policies, or remotely wipe data from devices.

Will anyone actually use WorkMail?

Amazon’s latest offering is part of its expansion into user-facing services, and accompanies the name change of Amazon Zocalo — an enterprise-focused competitor to cloud file storage services such as Dropbox — to Amazon WorkDocs. Certainly, Jeff Bezos’ strategy of constant expansion continues unabated in this new offering.

However, the timing of this release coincides with an event causing considerable consternation among IT professionals tasked with maintaining outdated systems on a small budget. The end of extended support for Windows Server 2003 is requiring system administrators to find migration paths to presently supported products. Having a cheap, drop-in replacement for a Microsoft Exchange server that requires little to no re-training of employees makes Amazon WorkMail a palatable — thought not quite outstanding — option for migration.

For organizations planning a migration from a platform that has reached end of life, such as older versions of Oracle Communications Messaging Server (or one of the handful of names that package previously had), the compatibility with Outlook would greatly ease migration for such deployments.

Final thoughts

For any organization, offloading email systems to the cloud could be more appealing than operating it on premises. Amazon’s history of uptime reliability is good, though not to the extent that uptime reliability is a selling point over other cloud service providers. A small amount of decentralization can go a long way in ensuring continued operations if the on-premises network suffers an outage, particularly if PBX systems are down.

Amazon’s newest offering does not provide a compelling reason to migrate from the competing Google Apps or Office 365 platforms — it has less features, and it is (by design) more limited in scope. On its own merits, it makes sense as a complement to other AWS services, but not quite as a standalone offering.

Is your organization preparing to migrate away from deprecated systems? Is a shake-up in email providers on your schedule? Are the privacy concerns too great to trust your email to the cloud? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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