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Amazon Zocalo a competitive, but repetitive, EFSS option

Amazon Zocalo isn't a game changer for enterprise file sync-and-share, but it gives IT a reputable option to consider from cloud leader AWS.

Amazon Zocalo offers little that competing cloud storage and file-sharing services don't already provide, but it still warrants serious consideration because of Amazon's market presence and its integration with other services.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the dominant cloud service provider on the market, and the company has placed a bet on the growing role of enterprise file synchronization and sharing (EFSS) with its rollout of Zocalo.

Cloud storage and file sharing is wildly popular with consumers and individual business users, but the enterprise market has lagged behind, and Amazon senses an opportunity. The nimbleness of cloud storage, making data accessible on any device, leaves traditional file servers and their shared folders looking out of step.

Zocalo delivers the core functionality of competing providers like Dropbox, Google Drive and Box.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) was the company's cloud storage strategy for years, but the "simple" part of the name didn't mean it was easy to use. Routine end-user cases, like synchronizing files locally on a laptop or sharing a file with someone in another organization, were overcomplicated and inconvenient. Amazon addressed this gap with the late-August release of Zocalo, which can be used in conjunction with other Amazon services or as a standalone enterprise cloud service.

Zocalo delivers the core functionality of competing providers like Dropbox, Google Drive and Box, including a Web application to access files in your personal account. Synchronization to local storage is also covered on PC and Mac applications, while Android, iOS (iPad only) and Amazon Kindle Fire apps are also available. Users can install browser add-ons for Firefox and Chrome that streamline Web clipping straight to Zocalo, allowing users to upload a screen grab as a PNG file in just one click.

Amazon Zocalo is designed around the hierarchy of a site, which contains folders where files reside. An administrator manages sites and user permissions from a Web-based console. That administrator can restrict file sharing with users outside of the organization. A company's boundary is determined by whatever email domains are specifically allowed to be shared with. By default, only admins can invite new users, but they can allow exceptions for users to invite others, both from within the organization or anyone outside it. Admins can prohibit downloading files from Zocalo to local storage, which is useful for sensitive files where data leakage prevention is important.

The document collaboration and reviewing system in Amazon Zocalo allows users with appropriate access to send documents to other users to solicit feedback, such as comments and document markups. Users can set deadlines on feedback, which generate an alert when missed, and they can also email notifications of collaborative activity to an entire group. When sharing a file, the document owner establishes whether a user has contributor or viewer rights to the document. The reviewing system supports popular document types such as PDF, .xls and .doc.

For the enterprise, Zocalo can use native AWS identity and access management (IAM), and it offers the option of using an existing on-premises Active Directory to authenticate against. The on-premises directory is linked to Zocalo by the Virtual Private Cloud, AWS' encrypted network connection service. This makes the service much more palatable to organizations that want to build up their cloud storage without having to engineer yet another disparate user ID.

Zocalo has out-of-the-box hooks to Amazon WorkSpaces, AWS' desktop as a service offering. Each WorkSpaces user gets 50 GB of Zocalo storage included. A WorkSpaces desktop can access a site share and/or sync its local documents to Zocalo, which makes them accessible from outside WorkSpaces' desktop.

AWS' data centers are organized into geographic regions, so they can be located closer in proximity to their users, decreasing network latency time and increasing performance. This also allows for the site to locate its files in specific legal jurisdictions. For example, a European storage site may need to keep data physically in the EU to comply with privacy regulations.

For security, Zocalo uses a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to protect data in transit to/from the site. The data stored by the service is encrypted at rest with encryption keys provided by Amazon. Multifactor authentication through IAM can be employed to further enhance security.

Package options are $5.00 per user per month, which includes 200 GB of storage. WorkSpaces users get 50 GB included and can expand to 200 GB for a discounted rate of $2.00 per month. There is no limit to storage, but Amazon charges a sliding scale fee for usage above the 200 GB limit. Admins can explicitly control storage limits or allow unlimited use on a per-user basis.

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Does Amazon Zocalo differentiate itself enough from other enterprise cloud providers?