• 11/14/2013
    3:40 AM
  • Rating: 
    1 vote
    Vote up!
    Vote down!

Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

VMware wants to move into cloud computing? Guess what, Amazon's moving into desktop virtualization.

In response to Amazon's move, VMware VP of end user computing product marketing Erik Frieberg said in a statement that Amazon's entry "further validates desktop as a service." But in fact, many desktops remain un-virtualized due to the cost of implementing all the servers and virtual desktop infrastructure software needed to deliver virtualized desktops. It's left a broad, green field of opportunity for additional virtualization approaches.

Amazon has presented a comparison of what it sees as the total cost of ownership under its approach versus those of other vendors. The summary, can be found here.

Jassy said IT administrators will like the fact they can provision virtual desktops from the Amazon Web Services management console with a few clicks of a mouse. He didn't say whether thousands of end users in a single company can all be rapidly equipped that way at the same time. Citrix' NetScaler, for example, is meant to answer that need.

On another front, Jassy announced that Amazon was launching CloudTrail, a service meant to allow customers to examine who is making API calls to their resources in EC2, what they wished to access, and whether any resources were changed as a result.

CloudTrail archives on S3 each customers API call data and with it a customer can create an audit trail of what was done by whom. Since APIs give outsiders access to limited company resources through third-party applications, CloudTrail is a security resource that exists if something goes wrong with that process. Other log analyzers are capable of examining a server log file and reconstructing the software events recorded there, including Sumo Logic, Splunk and Loggly, and Jassy said CloudTrail will work with such third-party software.

In his talk, Jassy cited a survey by Nucleus Research of Amazon customers, which found they were experiencing 32% less down time with workloads they had moved from on-premises onto EC2.

He cited a statistic oft-repeated by Amazon officials on the number of innovations that the company has come up with, a figure that grows with each passing year. In 2010, it was 61; in 2011, it was 82; in 2012, it was 159; and in 2013, it has hit 235 with six weeks to go. He said there is "a lot more" coming before the end of the year. The figures are used to represent new services, new instance types, or other major additions to the product line. This year's figure includes many of the 26 "innovations" added to the Red Shift data warehouse service.

Jassy also cited customer use of an Amazon-provided tool, Amazon Trusted Advisor, which tells customers after reviewing their virtual machine use whether they've assigned resources appropriately or left some virtual machines idle but still running and racking up charges. Trusted Advisor has sent one million potential optimization notifications to users, Jassy said. Amazon knows that 700,000 of the messages were opened. If acted on correctly, they resulted in customer savings of $140 million during the last year, he said.

Jassy later turned over the microphone to Stephen Orban, global head of technology for Dow Jones financial news service, a unit of News Corp., which is the owner of the New York Post, London Times, Wall Street Journal. Orban said News Corp. wishes to concentrate on content creation, not data center management and is in the process of moving thousands of its applications onto the AWS infrastructure as a service. "Our mission is to migrate 75% of our infrastructure to AWS," he said. The company plans to reduce its total number of data centers from 40 to six, he said.


You can customize your Amazon Workspace

At Re:Invent, I had the chance to ask Matt Wood, chief data scientist, what happens if users depart from the Amazon Workspace templates and customize their desktops? If end users have in-house applications or individual apps and add them to their desktop, Amazon will capture and store the changes, and reactivate them the next time they call up their work space, he said. Amazon will be incurring a significant storage commitment, if it ends up supplying hundreds of thousands or millions of Workspaces. Furthermore, each Workspace will have its own applications, running on an Amazon server, not just the pixels from a shared Word or PowerPoint multi-tenant application. A Workspace in many cases will resemble the software assembly of the PC era, including Windows operating system, as I understand it. That may evolve, but right now, bring your Microsoft licenses to Amazon and that's what you'll get. I have to wonder about the latencies of receiving a desktop from a cloud data center 1,500 miles away. What will that look liketo end users?   


re: Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

Do you see the BYOD movement as an opposing force against Amazon's push back toward centralized IT control?

re: Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

I would think that BYOD would actually work very well with virtualized desktops, because you would essentially be saying, "here's your company desktop, and we're going to restrict it in certain ways, but whatever you want to do on your own devices, we don't care."  I imagine that IT could only allow access to privileged resources through the virtual desktop and then have essentially "guest" internet access for any traffic not going through the virtual desktop.


re: Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

Yes, if the users insist on customizing their own devices, which of course they will. I don't see how Amazon is going to deal with individual customizations. Looks like standard template desktops to me. Amazon's Adam Selipsky: You can already customize under WorkSpaces. My question: Where will those customizations be stored (nothing is stored on the device itself)? Selipsky: I'll get back to you.

re: Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

It strikes me that file data, rather than the desktop interface, is really what needs to be made available anywhere, anytime. DropBox > WorkSpaces, if you're not dealing with really esoteric apps. 

re: Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

Matt Wood, principal data scientist, says Amazon will allow individual customizations within limits of a company's policies, capture and store them on its servers. Each time workers logs in, they get their individual desktop retrieved from storage. In other words, Amazon is going to use its ability to scale to store, reactivate on cue each desktop. Conmpanies will bring existing Windows and Office licenses to Amazon so that they are using licensed versions-- jplus whatever in-house apps they may had added to the desktop, Will this be compatible with BYOD? Amazon says yes, as long as users stay within their company's BYOD policies. Interesting that Amazon is attempting to implement virtual desktops in this way and on this scale.

Great news

This has been too long coming.  Server space in the cloud is reaching a maturity level that removes much of the fear associated with virtualization but virtual desktops and especially those in the could are still rare.  We've seen stripped down custom web based OSes to run virtual desktops but nothing much in the way of VDI.  I'm glad a player as big as Amazon has stepped into the ring.

What is the future of virtual desktops anyhow?

I think whether virtual desktops are just a legacy of the past is an important question that seems completely unaddressed alongside this AWS announcement--perhaps because no one thinks that AWS is so revolutionary and innovative that there's no way it could announce a service that will be obsolete in short order?

If we are increasing moving to SaaS and apps for our own devices, why on earth do we want our IT departments to have to worry about managing desktops?  If we're being sold that we can "run our virtual desktops on iPads", why aren't we asking, "wait, if we have an iPad, and our applications are SaaS and apps, why the heck do we need another desktop to get in the way?"

I would submit that the centralized "desktop" metaphor for employees is a skeumorphism that is destined to die.  I think we gave up that front in the war when we accepted BYOD (or we will give it up when the last old-school CIOs retire and are replaced by CIOs who want to empower their organizations).  Instead, we have to figure out what we need for information security, and avoid wasting resources on things like centralized desktops.  So I would expect a need for centralized storage (made easier by SaaS) and for security requirements on access (e.g., SAML), but why on earth are we wasting cycles switching from VMware virtual desktops to AWS virtual desktops?  That's like switching slide-rule vendors.  Time to buy a calculator.

Not yet available

When will it be available for the general public? I signed up weeks ago but have gotten no response from AWS support.