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Amazon WorkSpaces: A threat to DaaS providers in the VDI market?

A new DaaS offering grants Amazon admittance into the VDI market; will Amazon WorkSpaces challenge existing DaaS providers?

Amazon Web Services threw its hat in the Desktop as a Service ring with Amazon WorkSpaces, but Amazon's dominance in the Infrastructure as a Service market doesn't guarantee that WorkSpaces will crush competing Desktop as a Service providers.

Desktop as a Service (DaaS) is a new opportunity for Amazon, but it's also a new challenge because the provider is not used to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) workloads, said Mark Margevicius, research vice president of virtualization for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Research Inc. While WorkSpaces will appeal to companies that want to experiment with VDI without making a significant investment or to those that want to spin up a quick desktop for a contractor, DaaS providers still have value-added management services that will help them keep their competitive edge.

What DaaS providers have that Amazon WorkSpaces doesn't

Cloud providers consider DaaS an opportunity to help customers overcome the typical barriers associated with virtual desktop infrastructure -- such as the high cost of entry and deployment complexities.

Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. -- two leading vendors in the VDI market -- differ from Amazon in their approach to DaaS. "Our typical customer would probably view the [Amazon] offer as too bare-bones," said Ken Oestreich, senior director of product marketing for Citrix. "Our customers usually want all the mobile device support and management[services], as well as HD graphics."

Amazon's WorkSpaces is a simple, Windows 7-like desktop service, Oestreich said. Customers using WorkSpaces will have to manage their own virtual desktops without the help of a service provider.

Service and support will also help other DaaS providers differentiate -- or hold their ground -- within the cloud-based VDI market. While many enterprise customers can quickly buy subscriptions and spin up virtual desktops with Amazon WorkSpaces, the no-frills offering won't include the assurance that a service provider could offer, said Dave Gibson, president and chief operating officer at nGenx Corp., a managed service provider (MSP) and Citrix partner focusing on hosted applications and desktops.

NGenx's small and medium-sized enterprise customers require VDI management as part of their hosted DaaS services, but the MSP also gives customers the freedom to take on management when they need to, ranging from simple user and application provisioning, to server and application configuration.

"By taking care of administration functions, we are offering customers a more consistent desktop experience without some of the cost and burden of managing it themselves," Gibson said. "Technology is technology. It's really going to boil down to who has better support services and relationships. Being partners with Citrix is one of the reasons we can excel at that different layer."

Amazon WorkSpaces could shine a light on the DaaS market

Despite the bare-bones nature of Amazon's DaaS offering, WorkSpaces could potentially help promote more interest in DaaS.

"There will probably be some early adopter customers that never would have considered DaaS before and now would be willing to at least try with WorkSpaces -- which is great for the market," Citrix's Oestreich said.

More on the VDI market

VDI market underdog: Virtual Bridges

Vendor options for VDI deployment -- sans Microsoft

VDI challenges remain as desktop market matures

Amazon WorkSpaces will validate the viability of VDI, said Erik Frieberg, vice president of end-user computing product marketing for VMware.

VMware enables providers with a VDI platform to offer their own DaaS, which contrasts with WorkSpaces, a DaaS offering from Amazon, by Amazon, Frieberg said. "Our service provider [partners] are excited about providing the base OS and adding value -- like support or corporate security -- that is well above the vanilla [virtual] Windows desktop," he said.

Basic cloud-based VDI services -- such as WorkSpaces -- won't be as robust as a provider's DaaS offering that is complete with value-added services, he said. Enterprises will find that many of their applications won't run as users expect on a VDI offering based on public cloud infrastructure.

Unlike experienced DaaS customers who expect more from their VDI services, Amazon's first generation of WorkSpaces will appeal to customers who want to experiment with VDI within certain departments -- such as their call centers -- and enterprises who are "looking to get their feet wet, without a lot of [the] risk that can come along with DaaS -- like expensive infrastructure changes or security and latency issues," said Gunnar Berger, research director of desktop, application and server virtualization at Gartner.

Will Amazon WorkSpaces raise the DaaS table stakes over time?

Amazon WorkSpaces may not be an immediate threat to established DaaS providers, but it could evolve into one as Amazon advances the service. "Not many providers have the scale, magnitude and scope that Amazon has, and [Amazon] will have the ability to push down some of those costs that other [providers] won't be able to afford," Gartner's Margevicius said.

Similar to the IaaS market, the cloud-based VDI market is trending toward consolidation, and size might matter. WorkSpaces could pose a threat to smaller DaaS providers in the market today, Berger said.

"The massive, global scale Amazon has is a differentiator," he said. "Large cloud providers -- like Microsoft -- may not be worried, but the smaller mom-and-pop providers might be."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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Amazon WorkSpaces is pushing me to give more consideration to the value of DaaS. I have been reading and pondering the subject in the background but now I may need to get serious.