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AWS launches Amazon WorkSpaces, a new cloud-based desktop service

Amazon Web Services enters the Desktop as a Service market with the launch of Amazon WorkSpaces, its new cloud-based desktop service.

LAS VEGAS -- In Andy Jassy's view, AWS has finally made the virtual desktop dream a reality.

"Virtual desktops have been around for a while, and they have never taken off the way people thought they would," Jassy, the Amazon's senior vice president who oversees Amazon Web Services (AWS), said in the opening keynote at the AWS re: Invent 2013 conference in Las Vegas. More than 9,000 business and IT professionals from as far away as India, Hong Kong and Australia attended the three-day event.

Jassy expects that situation to change with the debut of Amazon WorkSpaces, a cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) service unveiled at the conference. Customers can sign up now for a limited preview of the fully managed, cloud-based desktop offering, which is widely seen as AWS' effort to attract a bigger chunk of the enterprise IT market.

You get to live that dream of centrally managing your desktops.

Amazon WorkSpaces allows IT teams to provision cloud-based desktops so users can access documents, applications and intranet resources from their desktop or laptop machines, smartphones, iPad or Android tablet computers, and, of course, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets.

The cloud-based desktop service is synchronized so users can switch from device to device without losing access to their documents. "You get to live that dream of centrally managing your desktops," Jassy said.

Several Amazon officials said repeatedly that they launched the cloud-based desktop service to meet customer demand for Desktop as a Service. "Over the past couple years, the new service customers have requested most frequently is a virtual cloud desktop service," Gene Farrell, WorkSpaces general manager, said in a press release. He and others said customers regularly complained that on-premises VDI products are difficult to manage, deliver inconsistent performance, and require investing in network and storage infrastructure.

In contrast, Amazon Workspaces requires "no hardware, no software, no infrastructure, no long-term commitments," Jassy said. "It's a very compelling value proposition for customers."

WorkSpaces is also intended to help companies manage the mushrooming bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend. "All the data lives in the cloud" rather than locally on individual devices, Jassy said.

Amazon estimated that WorkSpaces' total cost of ownership is less than half that of traditional VDIs. In a blog post, AWS Chief Evangelist Jeff Bar estimated the monthly cost for the cloud-based desktop service at $43,333 for a hypothetical 1,000-user environment -- nearly 60% less than the $106,356 estimated cost for a VDI in the same scenario.

WorkSpaces is being offered on a monthly pay-as-you-go basis. The standard level of service provides one virtual central processing unit (CPU) with 50 GB of storage for $35 per user per month. The "performance" -- or premium -- level provides two virtual CPUs with 100 GB of storage for $60 per user per month. Customers can use their own Microsoft Office and antivirus licenses with the cloud-based desktop service or can opt to have AWS provide them for an additional $15 per user per month.

Not everyone agrees that such pricing is a bargain. According to The Wall Street Journal's CIO Journal, Forrester Research Principal Analyst David Johnson characterized the rates as "expensive." However, he added that some companies may appreciate the service's ability to help them manage BYOD-related problems.

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Does your organization use, or plan to begin using, Desktops as a Service (DaaS)?