On November 13, 2013, at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent 2013 conference, in Las Vegas, NV, AWS announced Amazon WorkSpaces. AWS describes WorkSpace as “a fully managed desktop computing service in the cloud.”
WorkSpace is essentially a Windows 7 desktop delivered as a service over the Internet. Amazon manages the desktop on behalf of subscribers, as well as providing security and persistent storage. WorkSpace provisioning and security can also be linked to the subscribing organization’s Active Directory.
Prices range from US$35 to US$75 depending on the software bundle, CPU and memory resources desired. At the top end, the WorkSpace would include two virtual CPUs, 7.5GB of memory, 100GB of disk, and a software bundle that includes: Microsoft Office Professional 2010, Trend Micro Anti-Virus, Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer 9, Firefox, 7-Zip, Adobe Flash, and the Java Runtime.
Amazon uses the Teradici PCoIP protocol to maximize the bandwidth efficiency. The protocol can be used on existing Windows or Mac desktops or laptops, thin clients, Kindle Fire, iPads and Android tablets.
The persistent storage is synced with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and is encrypted at rest.
Currently Amazon WorkSpace is only available in limited preview.
Neuralytix research had expected the launch of such a service from Amazon for some time. WorkSpace will dramatically change the way IT views virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). For some IT professionals, the introduction of WorkSpace will be threatening to their jobs. For others (Neuralytix expects for IT leaders), the service is likely to be a godsend.
Neuralytix believes that WorkSpace will also change the software licensing landscape significantly. Many enterprises may no longer wish to negotiate directly with Microsoft for Windows, and Office licenses, but instead “rent” Microsoft Office through Amazon. Still others, will want to leverage their enterprise license agreements and use those licenses with a less comprehensive WorkSpace option. The question may be whether these enterprises pay more or less than $180 per year per user for Microsoft Office Professional.
The introduction of WorkSpace is very timely. With seasonal and temporary workers expected to be hired for the upcoming holiday season, the ability to deploy a virtual desktop on an as-needed basis, without the overhead and capital investment that typically comes with extra staff, Neuralytix expects a fast uptake for the service.
Of course, like all technologies, it is not without its challenges. For one, it is unclear what effects a healthy subscription would cause to performance. Although, if Amazon’s EC2 server computing in the cloud is an example, the impact should be de minimis.
Neuralytix also believes that some skeptics may find the $600-$900 per annum price tag high, given that many corporate grade desktops and laptops cost about the same amount, but then the asset has a much longer life.
What these skeptics forget is the cost of maintaining and supporting these environments. With WorkSpaces, enterprise customers have the ability to remove the cost of desktop support from their budgets.
Finally, one thing that WorkSpaces does not address are mobile workers who also need offline access. For example, executives and salespeople who travel by plane, and may not have persistent network connections. These IT users will still have to rely on a laptop.
For most enterprises of any size, they will be able to keep their existing investments for at least one, possibly two more, typical desktop refreshes. Older desktops and laptops could be reprovisioned with a very bare minimal setup that is completely common to all users, since the personalization and customization will come in the form of each Amazon WorkSpace.
On Amazon’s landing page promoting WorkSpaces, Amazon has posted a one month comparison between an on-premise, enterprise hosted VDI environment for 1,000 users, compared with Workspaces.
Figure 1: Summary of Cost Comparison between on-premise VDI & Amazon WorkSpaces (Amazon 2013)
Neuralytix believes that Amazon WorkSpace will be a game changer.
That said, WorkSpace is not going to be the be-all-and-end-all for VDI. Many enterprises will still prefer to implement their own on-premise VDI despite the higher cost. Regulatory and corporate compliance will be drivers towards deciding between desktop-as-a-service from Amazon or a locally hosted approach. Sensitivity to data being hosted by a third party is also going to be another defining factor.
Apart from the Microsoft licensing questions, other software vendors may also be reluctant to permit their licenses to be used on-demand.
For small companies and start-ups, Amazon WorkSpace now presents a much more comprehensive offering compared to Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps while still providing control by the enterprise’s IT departments.