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Amazon Launches 'WorkSpaces' For Desktop Users

Amazon Web Services announced Wednesday that it is entering the desktop virtualization market and will offer Amazon WorkSpaces -- Windows-based desktops -- from its cloud servers. Amazon Workspaces were introduced during a keynote talk by Andy Jassy, senior VP, at Re:Invent, AWS' annual event for around 9,000 developers, partners, and customers in Las Vegas.

The desktop move comes at the expense of VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, who have gone unchallenged until now in their slow progress to virtualize desktops. Virtualization thus far has been primarily a data center phenomenon, consolidating applications on servers and reducing the total physical server count. But for all the speed with which it's swept through the data center, the movement has stopped at the data center's walls. Meanwhile, the problem of virtualizing desktops has become more dicey as end users adopted Apple iPads and iPhones, then Android phones and other mobile devices.

Amazon thus has a fresh chance to address the challenge on two fronts. Through its well-established practice of distributing compute cycles off automated, multi-tenant cloud servers, it may be able to challenge the virtualization vendors on cost. At the same time, it will make use of a flexible display protocol that can reach numerous types of devices.

Amazon will deliver end user displays -- the pixels, not the data -- via Teradici's version of the PCoIP protocol. Teradici's website calls the version of PCoIP that it's developed "cloud optimized." (VMware also selected PCoIP as one of the protocols that it uses to deliver virtual desktops more than three years ago.)

[ Want to learn more about VMware's plans for virtualized desktops? Read VMware Buys Desktone For Cloud-Delivered Virtual Desktops. ]

Much as Amazon offers server templates in small, medium, and large sizes, end user WorkSpaces will come in a limited number of pre-configured sizes. "You get a simpler way to provision desktops for users," Jassy said. While Amazon expects to set the monthly price per WorkSpace from $35 to $75. The low end would be equipped with "utilities" such as Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers, Adobe Reader and Flash, 7-Zip for rehydrating older, Zip-compressed files, and the Java Runtime Engine. The $75 WorkSpace comes with twice the virtual CPU, memory and storage of the $35 model, plus Microsoft Office 2010, Trend Micro Anti-Virus, and the previously listed utilities. The $35 model's virtual CPU is roughly equivalent to one core of a multi-core 2007 Xeon running at 1 GHz or 1.2 GHz.

In carrying over its IaaS notion of pre-defined instances, Amazon risks alienating end users who wish to add an application that IT didn't include or to personalize everything from their wall paper, ring tones, and messaging. IT staffs have been reluctant to limit employees to only two or three types of desktops. Several desktop virtualization schemes allow the IT staff to individualize the virtualized desktop. Citrix bought a startup in 2011, RingCube, which captures an end user's preferred specifications.

But desktop personalization conflicts with efficient operation and holding down desktop costs. It remains to be seen whether the time is right for an offering like WorkSpaces, which contains only four options -- there are $50 and $60 models to go with the $35 and $75 ones.

The new Amazon service is not generally available yet. It's only available in what it calls "a limited preview," meaning to selected customers.

Vmware may have anticipated Amazon's move when it acquired Desktone on Oct. 16. Unlike more data center-centric approaches, Desktone also virtualizes desktops from multi-tenant servers in the cloud, relying heavily on open source code. Existing customers include Dell, Fujitsu, NEC, Time Warner Cable, Dimension Data, and Logicalis.

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