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Amazon challenges Microsoft and Google with new WorkMail

Amazon WorkMail will allow office workers to continue using familiar e-mail programs such as Microsoft Outlook, but will encrypt data behind the scenes and limit where it's stored.

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Amazon isn’t content with simply offering products to consumers. It wants to be a part of the office, too.

On Thursday the company announced it will be releasing Amazon WorkMail, a corporate e-mail and calendar service that competes with Microsoft Exchange, the dominant office e-mail service, and (to a lesser extent) Gmail and Google Docs.

WorkMail, which will be launched next quarter, will allow office workers to continue using popular e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook or Apple Mail.

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The software will be compatible with Microsoft Active Directory, and users can access WorkMail from any computer browser and most mobile devices, including smart phones and tablets running on Android, iOS, or Windows Phone. The change will come behind the scenes, as e-mail will be stored at Amazon’s data centers.

Amazon promises beefy security, as e-mails will be encrypted as they’re sent and decrypted when they arrive at their destination, so anyone snooping won’t be able to read sensitive communications. Companies will be able to choose and store their own encryption keys to keep data secure. Amazon will also allow companies using WorkMail to decide in what country they want their data stored. This is particularly important for companies located in Europe, where data-privacy laws often implicate the geographic location of stored data.

WorkMail will cost companies $4 per month per user account, which is about what the Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Work services cost. That cost includes 50 GB of storage per user. Companies can also opt to bundle WorkMail with Amazon WorkDocs, a collaborative cloud document system similar to Google Docs, for $6 per month per user.

Peter De Santis, the vice president of computer services for Amazon Web Services, said in a statement that “Customers have repeatedly asked us for a business email and calendaring service that is more cost-effective and simpler to manage than their on-premises solution.” He called WorkMail “more secure than the cloud-based offerings available today.”

WorkMail may be Amazon’s first piece of software explicitly written for office use, but the company has been quietly selling Web services to businesses for almost 10 years. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is an enormously popular way for businesses to host websites and apps without having to build their own data centers or buy their own servers. Amazon doesn’t share financial results for AWS, but analysts say it brings in billions of dollars every year. Some big-name companies have moved almost all of their data to AWS servers.

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