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AWS drops a bomb on VMware, Citrix with Amazon WorkSpaces

Bridget Botelho and Beth Pariseau

LAS VEGAS -- Amazon dropped a bomb on VMware, Citrix and other cloud-hosted virtual desktop providers this week called Amazon WorkSpaces.

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Services (AWS) virtual desktops allow IT to centrally manage and deliver desktop images without the hardware, software, and infrastructure costs of on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).

Amazon's Desktop as a Service (DaaS) play is a ringing endorsement of cloud-hosted virtual desktops that could finally put it on the map as a viable alternative to physical desktops and VDI, said Gunnar Berger, an analyst with Gartner, Inc. 

We were waiting for them to do this.

Grant Young, director of IT technology for a large textbook publisher.

Today, DaaS has a small but growing customer base. About 6% of the 1,200 respondents to TechTarget's 2013 Cloud Pulse Survey said they use DaaS now, and 15% said they might use it later this year.

VMware, Citrix respond to Amazon WorkSpaces

Like many cloud-hosted desktops, Amazon WorkSpaces isn't a Windows desktop OS; they are Windows Server 2008 -- and they are Microsoft-sanctioned, according to Matt Wood, general manager of data science for AWS.

In addition, it supports persistent sessions, so users can pick up where they left off across different devices, Amazon said during its AWS re:Invent conference here this week.

While this is nothing new -- some other DaaS providers offer the same benefits -- with Amazon, there is no long term commitment -- just a monthly service fee that Amazon claims is 50% less than the cost of VDI. With a few clicks in the AWS Management Console, IT can provision desktops to multiple end users. And that ease of use may get them to give it a whirl.

One such person is Grant Young, director of IT technology for a large textbook publisher in the Northeast. They have content developers in India, so using DaaS hosted in one of AWS' global data centers will move data closer to the workers and cut down on network traffic, Young said.

“AWS is making a play because they can do it at massive scale,” Young said. “We were waiting for them to do this.”

Amazon WorkSpaces arrives following VMware Inc.'s acquisition of veteran DaaS provider Desktone, Inc. last month. VMware said in an email that it "welcomes new entrants to the market as it further validates DaaS as being an important strategy to help modernize traditional desktops." The company added that its customers prefer Desktone's full VDI desktops -- they can choose either Windows 7, 8, XP or Linux --over Windows Server-based desktops. 

Even before the news of Amazon's plans hit, rumors swirled and it was clear that incumbent DaaS vendors wanted to mark their territory.

Citrix sent emails out earlier this week reminding people that it "has quietly built its own service provider and white label channel over the past three-plus years." Unlike other DaaS services, the spokesperson wrote, Citrix's technology uses virtualization-neutral and cloud-neutral, multi-tenant DaaS reference architecture, supporting service provider scale and administrative needs.

AWS WorkSpaces price comparison

Amazon claims its persistent WorkSpaces cost 50% less than virtual desktops – but companies should compare it to the cost of other cloud-hosted virtual desktop services.

Amazon's Standard WorkSpaces suite includes 1 vCPU, 3.75 GB Memory, 50 GB User Storage with utilities such as Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer 9, Firefox, and Adobe Flash, costs $35 per user per month. The Performance suite with 2 vCPU, 7.5 GiB Memory, 100 GB User Storage and those same utilities costs $60 per user per month.

Companies that already have Microsoft application licensing can apply those to AWS or they can add Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and Trend Micro Anti-Virus to either package for an extra $15.

That pricing is competitive with other persistent DaaS services, though companies can buy nonpersistent hosted virtual desktops from companies such as tuCloud for less than $20 per user per month, or pay much more for fully customized desktops from Citrix's providers.

Citrix's DaaS providers deliver persistent desktops that bundle XenDesktop with vertical industry apps, unified communications, unified storage and other services for customers at a price upwards of $200 per seat, according to the company.

Other DaaS options, such as Windows as a Service from VMware's Desktone, cost $35-$40 per user per month.


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