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Amazon Zocalo leaves IT pros feeling so-so

IT pros got the chance to see Amazon Zocalo in action this week and some came away with mixed reactions.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- IT pros see Amazon's Zocalo as a solid enterprise file sync-and-share product, but questions remain on encryption keys and feature differentiation.

Zocalo offers numerous administrative controls for IT and simple cloud deployment. Still, Amazon considers it a version one product and is seeking customer feedback to improve its capabilities.

When Amazon launched Zocalo this summer, the company positioned it as a competitor to Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive for Business. The market for such platforms has ratcheted up significantly of late.

Key management is a sticking point for some IT pros considering Zocalo. Amazon holds the keys for Zocalo, which is a non-starter when it comes to enterprise file sync-and-share options for some companies. In some industries, companies must hold the keys due to regulatory requirements.

Similar services, like Dropbox, also don't allow users to hold the keys, either. However, some enterprise file sync-and-share vendors, like Boole Server and Workshare, allow for client-side key encryption.

All security key information is stored within Amazon S3, which is audited and extremely secure, said Bob Krentler, senior product manager with Amazon Web Services (AWS), who gave a presentation on Zocalo at a meetup here this week.

"If the government comes asking for your data, we let you know so you can take actions, and then we comply with the law," Krentler said.

That explanation sufficed for a Boston-area database applications consultant in the e-commerce sector, who requested anonymity.

"AWS employs highly trained security personnel who look for bad things to happen," he said.

Administrators are afforded granular controls within Zocalo. They can assign permissions and policies regarding file access and sharing to specific users or groups. They can also deactivate users and transfer ownership of their files.

SharePoint, Google Drive vs. Zocalo

Key encryption's importance to a specific organization depends on its regulatory structure and needs, said another IT pro who consults in the healthcare, education and government sectors in the Boston area.

His experience is mostly with Microsoft SharePoint, and the biggest differences between the two products appear to be cost and security, he said.

"With SharePoint, you have to make a significant up-front investment, but it gives you a lot of control inside a company," he added.

Zocalo offers companies 200 GB of free space for each user for the first 30 days and then charges $5 per user per month thereafter. Customers can add or drop monthly subscriptions at any time. While the cloud-based SharePoint Online has similar pricing (with plans at $5 and $8 per user per month), SharePoint Server 2013 has a complex licensing model that requires on-premises hardware.

On the other hand, having the hardware on-premises through SharePoint Server 2013 as opposed to keeping company data in a cloud not managed by the IT administrator might appeal to some companies.

I would still recommend people to check out Google Drive first.
anonymous IT pro

Customers of Amazon WorkSpaces get the first 50 GB of Zocalo storage free, then pay $2 per user per month for up to 200 GB.

Despite its licensing simplicity, Zocalo may not have enough features to differentiate itself from something like Google Drive, the database applications consultant said.

"I would still recommend people to check out Google Drive first and see what it can't do before going to [Zocalo]," he said.

Google Drive for Work recently launched, offering native Office document editing within Google Apps -- something Zocalo cannot do. Google Drive for Work is more expensive at $10 per user per month, but customers get unlimited storage.

AWS mum on Zocalo roadmap

Krentler declined to give specific numbers about how many Zocalo users there are to date, nor how widespread the internal use of Zocalo is within Amazon. He did give a glimpse on what features customers have said they'd like added.

They include better ways of sharing and syncing whole folders, and providing more support for different file types. Amazon has also heard requests for quick editing of documents directly in Zocalo, similar to what Google is adding in Drive for Work.

"We have our best UX teams working on it," Krentler said.

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