Amazon's Dropbox answer leaves IT with big questions

Amazon introduced Zocalo into the hot file sync and share market. But questions about encryption keys might make it a tough sell in enterprises.

Amazon wants to crash the enterprise file sync and share party, but its foot may not get in the door due to concerns over security and encryption.

Amazon's entry into this hot market is Zocalo, a sharing and storage service that provides IT administrative controls, feedback capabilities and the ability to access data from any device. With Zocalo, Amazon becomes the latest entrant in an ever-growing field of competitors with products around file sync and share, enterprise content management, collaboration and storage.

Dropbox, Box and Google Drive have all beefed up enterprise capabilities, and Microsoft  pushes OneDrive for Business. In addition, AirWatch by VMware's Secure Content Locker and Citrix's ShareFile are part of larger mobility offerings and Apple recently joined the fray with iCloud Drive.

Zocalo gives administrators audit logs, sharing and storage location controls and integration with existing corporate directories. Files are synced across devices, and users can request and manage feedback on documents.

But who will own the encryption keys for Zocalo could be a major turnoff for IT.

Zocalo's encryption will be server side, with Amazon Web Services (AWS) owning the keys, said Noah Eisner, a general manager at Amazon. That may make Zocalo a non-starter; all it takes is one rogue individual to unlock an organization's data.

Server-side encryption is fine for many small and mid-sized businesses, but big enterprises must hold the keys for compliance reasons.  However, AWS may offer client side encryption keys at some point, one industry watcher said. Until then, IT professionals requiring client-side encryption for Zocalo will have to wait.

"I can't even look at the product if I can't have the keys," said Michael Aldo, an IT manager at a Connecticut-based financial services company. "It's a deal-breaker for me."

Uncertainty over who owns encryption keys might keep large enterprises, like U.K.-based media company News Corp., from exploring Zocalo. Hypothetically, if there was a situation where a government agency wanted data, they couldn't prevent access unless they owned the keys, said  Michael Kurzeja, an IT manager with the company.

Zocalo could be Dropbox/Google Apps hybrid

Encryption concerns aside, Zocalo's enterprise features are appealing and have some thinking even bigger than Dropbox.

For Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey, Zocalo could compete with Microsoft SharePoint, its current go-to content and document management product, according to Daniel Sadley, ETS's lead software developer.

"[Zocalo] has redundancy and backup, which is what we look for," Sadley said.

ProQuest, a library technology provider based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, may also consider moving off SharePoint because of its "terrible implementation" in ProQuest's environment. Zocalo could provide better integration if successful, according to Timothy J. Patterson, cloud and virtualization systems engineer at ProQuest.

"We’re heavily invested in looking into [Amazon] Workspaces," Patterson said. "This just further sweetens the deal for us."

Other IT pros are impressed with what appears to be a Dropbox and Google Apps hybrid in Zocalo that could help clear up clogged email servers due to employees constantly sending attachments back and forth.

Amazon Zocalo ups the ante

With so many vendors attempting to differentiate themselves in that market, Amazon has a significant advantage with the storage and security of its AWS platform, according to Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research in Toronto.

"If [Amazon makes] APIs available for Zocalo it could be a powerful platform for developers to add file sync and share features to their applications," Lepofsky said.

In a world of regulations, enterprises may consider Zocalo because of its auditing capability, according to Larry Carvalho, analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Amazon WorkSpaces customers will get 50 GB of Zocalo for free to start, showing how AWS can use new capabilities to expand its older offerings, according to Carvalho.

Zocalo is available at $5 per user per month with 200 GB of storage. Beyond the 50 free GBs for Amazon WorkSpaces, Zocalo will be $2 per user per month for up to 200 GB of storage.

By comparison, Dropbox for Business starts at 1,000 GB of storage and costs $15 per user per month for a minimum of five users or $795 per user per year for a five-member team. An additional $125 per user per year can be purchased. Box's business version also offers 1,000 GBs at $15 per user per month, but for a three-user minimum.

Editorial Director Margie Semilof, News Editor Adam Hughes and Site Editor Katherine Wiley contributed to this report.

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