Q

Considering Amazon WorkSpaces? Balance virtual desktop pros and cons

In this answer, expert Chris Moyer discusses concerns companies should address before moving to Amazon WorkSpaces or other virtual-desktop services.

We're looking at Amazon's new cloud-based desktop offering, Amazon WorkSpaces. What are some pros and cons of moving

to a Desktop as a Service (DaaS)environment in general -- and, if you know, of moving to Amazon WorkSpaces in particular?

Virtual desktops are an IT manager's dream. They allow the IT staff to manage all employees' systems easily and automatically, while making sure that everyone is running exactly the right type of software.

They also let staff quickly troubleshoot issues by logging directly into the virtual system that employees are using and making sure that everything accessing the system is secure. When new employees join the company, it's easy for staff to provision them with virtual desktops by just clicking a button. After that, they can access their work environments from anyplace they can access the Internet.

Amazon WorkSpaces -- at this writing, offered only in limited preview form, with general availability to come later -- offers the same functionality as services from other vendors, but with a much cleaner, "pay-as-you-go" pricing model. Companies can choose to bring their own software licenses or pay a little extra for the licenses built into the service. For instance, for customers who don't want to worry about buying Microsoft Windows licenses, Amazon WorkSpaces will manage that process for them.

When new employees join the company, it's easy for staff to provision them with virtual desktops by just clicking a button.

Unfortunately, Amazon WorkSpaces doesn't manage the consumer hardware that's needed to actually connect to the virtual desktop, and the desktops are only as useable as the organization's Internet connection. That means if the company's Internet connection goes down, the entire organization is unable to work -- or even to access any of the documents they had been working on. That situation can be especially bad if the company doesn't have redundancy built into its networks or alternatives for business continuity.

Additionally, Amazon WorkSpaces won't help with host systems. Users will still need to have computers to log into their remote workstations, and they'll still need help to troubleshoot any problems they have on those systems. IT staffs will also need to convince users to actually work on the remote desktops rather than their local systems.

The challenge here: Local systems will always be faster because users don't have to connect to the Internet, so, it can become increasingly difficult to convince users to switch to working entirely on remote desktop connections. If organizations don't have fast-enough Internet connections, that may increase the time it takes users to complete tasks -- and ultimately add too much overhead to make the DaaS option worth the time and effort.

Bottom line: DaaS -- including the new Amazon WorkSpaces option -- can provide a lot of advantages for IT staff. But the approach also provides some disadvantages for the employees using it. Decision makers need to weigh these issues against the benefit of easily managed systems to determine whether a virtual-desktop environment is the right fit for their situation.

 

This was first published in January 2014

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