Amazon WorkSpaces delivers Windows desktops on demand

WorkSpaces provides cloud-hosted Windows 7 desktops in four virtual machine configurations, but current VDI solutions may still have an edge in terms of flexibility

Amazon Web Services is determined to make buying a desktop machine a thing of the past.

Yesterday at AWS re:Invent, Amazon announced a virtual desktop service called Amazon WorkSpaces that promises to provide Windows 7 desktops on demand to almost any client device.

Amazon also claims it can deliver those desktops at a better per-user price than pretty much anyone else on the market, with the lowest-tier desktops available for $35 per user per month. For a 1,000-user setup, Amazon claimed around 59 percent cost savings over delivering the same desktops on-premises.

The desktops are provided to clients by way of a client app, available for most major platforms: Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Windows (ironically enough). Four different virtual machine configurations are available -- from a single virtual CPU with 3.75GB of memory and 50GB of persistent storage to a dual-vCPU, 7.5GB, 100GB storage model. Organizations with an existing Active Directory repository or other in-network resources can connect those up to the desktops by way of a VPN.

Software is included with the systems as well, although the standard bundles are nothing that can't be obtained for free (Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Firefox, and 7-Zip). Higher-end bundles also include Microsoft Office Professional 2013 and Trend Micro's antivirus, and Amazon allows customization of bundles. Existing Windows software licenses can be moved into WorkSpaces, albeit for a fee.

WorkSpaces follows hot on the heels of another desktop-oriented announcement, a graphics-as-a-service offering from Amazon Web Services via its new G2 instance type. In many ways, WorkSpaces and G2 instances are complementary: the former for day-to-day desktop jobs, the latter for high-end performance work.

Amazon's cloud offerings have typically competed with similar services from Google, Rackspace, IBM, and so on. WorkSpaces, on the other hand, puts the company in competition with all the VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) providers out there. Citrix and VMware are two of the biggest names, but Microsoft also has some VDI presence.

VMware isn't all that impressed with what it sees, though. Erik Frieberg, VMware's vice president of product marketing for end-user computing, thinks VMware's Desktone product is still a better deal. "In terms of features," Frieberg said in an email, "Amazon WorkSpaces offers limited capabilities compared to VMware. The limited nature of the four bundles and the dependency on the Windows 2008 Server OS will make Amazon WorkSpaces incompatible with many enterprise applications and desktop management tools."

Frieberg also criticized "peripheral handling, touchscreen support, unified communications and a range of other areas" where Amazon WorkSpaces, in his view, falls short of VMware's Horizon View.

Still, it would be a mistake to write off Amazon in this space from the get-go. AWS rose from being a curiosity to being one of the most foundational of modern computing technologies. There's little that says Amazon can't, in time, refine WorkSpaces to become everything VMware would really fear -- provided it doesn't get hidebound by the same inflexibility and erratic service that's plagued AWS before.

This story, "Amazon WorkSpaces delivers Windows desktops on demand," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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