Amazon Dives Into Virtual Desktops With New Cloud 'Workspaces' Service

The new Amazon Workspaces service, unveiled Wednesday, lets customers rent access to virtual desktops running in the AWS cloud for a monthly fee. Amazon has launched a limited preview of the service and will be adding more users in phases in the coming weeks.

Andy Jassy, senior vice president of Amazon Web Services, said Amazon Workspaces' key selling point is consistent operational performance, which has been challenging for organizations that have deployed virtual desktops on their own, he told a crowd of about 9,000 attendees at Amazon's AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

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AWS customers that have already bought their own licenses can use them with Amazon Workspaces. If they haven't, they can buy licenses from AWS, Jassy said in a keynote at the conference.

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Customers can access the Amazon Workspaces service from desktops, notebooks and mobile devices. The service features persistent sessions, which let users switch from using a virtual desktop on a PC to a mobile device and pick up where they left off, Jassy said.

With its Workspaces service, Amazon is entering the turf of Citrix and VMware, which both have years of experience selling virtual desktops, and hundreds of partners selling the technology.

Ken Phelan, CTO of Montvale, N.J.-based Gotham Technology Partners, doesn't think AWS will have much success cracking the enterprise virtual desktop market.

"Business users need their desktops close to their back-end systems for performance reasons," Phelan said in an email. "Until Amazon gets the whole data center, and keeps it all in one place, it's not going to get a lot of corporate desktops."

But Eugene Alfaro, director of IT engineering services at Cornerstone Technologies, a San Jose, Calif.-based solution provider, said he sees a few different scenarios for companies using Amazon Workspaces.

Companies are already using EC2 and S3 to give offshore workers resources to test and develop software, Alfaro said. "Now they can add a desktop that those workers can work from, to localize the communication between desktop and apps to the backend they are working from," he said in an email.

That remains to be seen, but enterprises will like the fact that Amazon Workspaces stores all its data in the AWS cloud. Jassy said this is important for security purposes since there's no data being stored locally.

Of course, this being an AWS service, Amazon Workspaces is also priced aggressively. Amazon Workspaces costs about half of what companies are typically spending today to deploy virtual desktops, according to Jassy.

There's a Standard package that comes with one virtual CPU and 50 GB of storage that's priced at $35 per user per month; and a Performance package that has 2 virtual CPUs and 100 GB of storage that's priced at $60 per user per month. Customers can get licenses for Microsoft Office and antivirus for an additional $15 per user monthly.