Amazon WorkSpaces VS. VDI: Anything Really New?

Dec 12 2013 | by Jonathan Nimrodi

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I never thought this would happen in my lifetime, but the traditional desktop computer may soon go the way of the typewriter and floppy disk. Amazon has announced that it is entering the DaaS battle-of-the-clouds(Desktop as a Service) market with a new service called Amazon WorkSpaces, which offers a way to provide a fully managed, cloud-based desktop experience to the end-users. But it remains to be seen if this new service will take off and how it will compare to existing VDI options.

 

The AWS Choice
Just like when deciding whether to move your computing workload to AWS EC2, you are faced with a similar dilemma with Amazon WorkSpaces. Do you give up on custom features, compatibility and control in exchange for cost effectiveness, agility and convenience? More importantly, do you trust Amazon to run your computers, and by extension, your employees’ productivity?

Amazon WorkSpaces vs. VDI
Amazon WorkSpaces is different than VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) in that Amazon WorkSpaces uses cloud technology whereas VDI (as used in this blog) uses a storage center that is located on the premises. This distinction takes the on-premise vs. public cloud issue deeper into the enterprise environment with those in favor of keeping computing on-premise likely to stick with VDI.
Here are some points to consider for either option:

VDI Benefits – Assume control
With VDI, you have complete control, and if something goes wrong, you do not need to rely on a third party. Using Amazon Workspace or any other cloud system requires a lot of trust in the provider.
In addition, you are better able to customize your system with VDI than with Amazon Workspace. If you’re using Amazon Workplace, you can’t purchase more storage than the 50GB/100GB that is offered in the preconfigured bundle. It is as if Amazon created a box, and you need to fit your dynamic business inside.

controlEven though you can add software to Amazon WorkSpaces, you still might run into compatibility issues, due to the fact that it runs on Windows 2008 Server OS. Self-serving comments made by Erik Frieberg, a VMware Vice President, highlight some of the challenges Amazon will need to overcome when selling to enterprise. He noted in an email that “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.”

WorkSpaces: Saving Precious Time?
On the other hand, Amazon claims that by using WorkSpaces, IT specialists will no longer need to waste precious time dealing with behind the scenes issues such as installing complex software programs, deploying new hardware and dealing with underlying infrastructure needs. But the question remains, if there is a problem, who will take responsibility? Will there be someone to talk to at AWS, or more importantly, someone to help you get your computers working? What does “fully managed” mean when there is one of those famous AWS outages?

save time

A major advantage of WorkSpaces is the price. Amazon claimed at AWS re:Invent conference that the savings of Amazon Workspaces is 59% over VDI (click here for an amortized chart of the savings).
Amazon limits its users to only four levels of configuration that range in price from a $35 monthly fee to a $75 monthly fee. The simplest configuration is called “Standard” with hardware specs: 1 vCPU, 3.75 GiB Memory, 50 GB User Storage, and the highest level of configuration is called “Performance Plus” with hardware specs: 2 vCPU, 7.5 GiB Memory, 100 GB User Storage. Fortunately, you do not need to make a long term commitment and can cancel whenever you like.

Networking
Allysa Wood, site editor for SearchVirtualDesktop.com, commented that network concerns are often unwarranted, because cloud-hosted desktops are connected to the corporate environment through a private connection. Once again, Amazon is removing the need for an internal network, and replacing it with its WorkSpaces. But what if you lose your connectivity to the Internet? All your computers go kaput, and all your employees would get a day off on your dime.

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Availability
Amazon WorkSpaces will be available on iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android tablet, but it will not be available on iPhones or iPods. Needless-to-say, as BYOD becomes more pervasive, there is no doubt AWS will broaden the range of supported devices.
A great feature of WorkSpaces is that it is persistent, meaning you can continue working on your personal device at home from exactly where you left off in the office. The down side is that the user won’t be able to save anything onto a personal device for security reasons.

Security
Amazon emphasizes that all data will be secured using PCoIP protocol from Teradici, which means that the pixels, not the data, will be delivered to the end-user’s screen, preventing them from saving any data. Despite these security precautions, the mobility that WorkSpaces allows with multiple devices can still present security issues where data can be accessed and viewed outside of the “safety” of the corporate HQ.
This wouldn’t happen with VDI. In general, VDI is not mobile which means that it is easy to track the employees and their productivity.

What about other cloud-based options?
Amazon definitely looks great in comparison to VDI, but Amazon would be doing a greater service comparing apples to apples and compare their price with other cloud computing services. Bridget Botelho and Beth Pariseau, news director and senior news writer for the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group, comment that the pricing of WorkSpaces is competitive with other persistent cloud based computing services, though companies can buy non-persistent hosted virtual desktops from companies such as tuCloud for less than $20 per user per month.

Future of DaaS
Amazon is trying to make virtual machines more popular by offering easy deployment, good prices and great features. Although there isn’t a clear consensus in the IT community on the future of DaaS, we can already see the battle for market dominance heat up. Many see the announcement of WorkSpaces as a direct challenge to VMware Inc. who acquired veteran DaaS provider Desktone Inc. Other competitors such as Citrix are scrambling to remind people of their presence by sending an email that it “has quietly built its own service provider and white label channel over the past three-plus years.” It looks like we are going to witness an intense battle for market dominance among all of its players.

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