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FAQ: All about WorkSpaces, Amazon's new cloud-based desktop service

Associate Site Editor Caroline de Lacvivier answers common questions about Amazon Web Services' new cloud-based desktop service, Amazon WorkSpaces.

Among the highlights of the 2013 Amazon Web Services re: Invent conference was AWS's launch of its Amazon WorkSpaces cloud virtual desktop offering. In unveiling Amazon WorkSpaces, Amazon.com Vice President Andy Jassy predicted that the new service will help customers realize the dream of centrally managing user desktops at costs far lower than those for traditional on-premises systems.

With Amazon WorkSpaces, users can move seamlessly from, say, a smartphone to a tablet computer without losing access to their documents.

Before you get swept up in the hype, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Amazon WorkSpaces.

What is Amazon WorkSpaces?

Amazon WorkSpaces is Amazon's new fully managed cloud virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) service. AWS said it launched the service to meet its customers' rising demand for a cloud-based Desktop as a Service (DaaS) offering. As of December 2013, the service was available only in "limited preview" form.

What does Amazon WorkSpaces do?

Amazon WorkSpaces operates as a centrally managed cloud virtual desktop. The system provisions cloud-based desktops so that all stored applications, documents and intranet resources can be accessed from a user's smartphone, laptop or tablet. This means that with Amazon WorkSpaces, users can move seamlessly from, say, a smartphone to a tablet computer without losing access to their documents.

What features does Amazon WorkSpaces include, and what does it cost?

AWS currently offers four WorkSpaces service bundles ranging from "Standard" to "Performance Plus."

The entry-level Standard WorkSpaces option has one virtual central processing unit (CPU) with 50 gigabytes (GB) of storage for $35 per user per month. Utilities include Adobe Reader, Firefox, Internet Explorer 9, 7-Zip, JRE and Adobe Flash. Standard Plus adds Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Security Services for an additional $15 per user per month.

The premier Performance WorkSpaces option has two virtual CPUs, 100 GB of storage and the same utilities package for $60 per user per month. Performance Plus adds the same Microsoft Office and Trend Micro software for another $15 per user per month.

How does Amazon WorkSpaces compare to its competitors' offerings?

Some experts say WorkSpaces' cloud virtual desktop technology isn't much different than that of other providers, such as Citrix, tuCloud and VMware, among others. What's unique about Amazon's service is its pricing structure. Unlike its competitors, Amazon offers a pay-as-you-go model with no long-term commitment.

What other benefits does Amazon WorkSpaces offer?

Amazon WorkSpaces requires no hardware, software or infrastructure. For some customers, the ease of use alone may make the service worthwhile -- but there are cost benefits as well. The company provides calculations estimating the total cost of ownership for its cloud-based DaaS offering at less than half that of a traditional VDI environment. In addition, Amazon says WorkSpaces helps manage the increasingly unmanageable bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend by keeping data in the cloud rather than on individual devices.

What concerns should businesses have about Amazon WorkSpaces?

Enterprises considering Amazon WorkSpaces -- or any other cloud virtual desktop product -- should ask hard questions about security, identity management, availability and the proximity of desktops and applications to the data.

How will Amazon WorkSpaces affect the DaaS market?

As Jassy noted in announcing the new service, virtual desktops have already been available for years, but, up to now, they haven't attracted a wide-scale following. Now that Amazon is entering the picture with its many customers, solid reputation and powerful cloud presence, DaaS is likely to begin having a much bigger impact.

This was first published in December 2013

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