Opinion

What Amazon WorkSpaces really means for DaaS

The Amazon WorkSpaces technology, while unique in its own right, isn't all that earth shattering. At the end of the day, end users access Windows desktops from a data center, just like they do currently.

It's disruptive … because of the company, infrastructure and existing customers behind it.

Amazon.com Inc. surprised many people with the introduction of WorkSpaces, a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) offering that runs on Windows Servers in the Amazon cloud. Even though it uses servers, it is not Remote Desktop Session Host-based. Rather, it's connecting users to Windows Server instances as if they were desktops, because the licensing costs are much more favorable (since there's a Services Provider License Agreement with Windows Server). 

The fact that there's no long-term commitment and that you can simply pay by the desktop-month is unique, but that's mostly because Amazon already has a massive cloud presence. Other DaaS providers have to acquire server, storage and network hardware to bring on more customers. Amazon just has to carve off a slice of its ridiculously huge supply of pie.

What's the big deal then? If it's not groundbreaking technology that the entire world has been clamoring for, why do we care? It's a big deal because it means a company as mainstream as Amazon has joined a game that was previously only held by niche companies in an already niche industry. In other words, DaaS just became mainstream.

Where Amazon fits into the DaaS landscape

Amazon now headlines a list that includes VMware, Citrix, tuCloud, dinCloud and a host of other companies that offer DaaS. And, if persistent rumors turn out to be true, Microsoft will soon be joining that list with Mohoro, its long-rumored project that aims to deliver desktops from Azure. Even that, though, could be trumped by Amazon's announcement.

What it really means is that DaaS, a technology that has existed since the late '90s (although it wasn't called DaaS back then), is moving from being a peripheral technology that companies are barely aware -- and politely dismissive -- of, to a front-line, mainstream concept that they won't be able to ignore. It does not, however, mean that everyone will move to DaaS en masse. Rather, it means that organizations will all be increasingly mindful of it when looking at how they currently deliver and manage desktops.

Keep in mind that the problems associated with DaaS haven't been solved by any of the recent activity. There are still concerns about provider reliability, proximity of the desktops and applications to the data, identity management, security, high availability and a slew of other things. This, in fact, could be where Amazon has a distinct advantage over the others. 

Many companies have already made the decision to place sensitive corporate IT services into Amazon's cloud, be it the applications, databases or storage. Those companies have placed not only their trust, but also their data, applications, networking and even security into Amazon, so why not also do desktops?

Plus, the more companies that give themselves over to Amazon, the more the word spreads, the less niche the technology becomes and the more threatened the other DaaS providers should feel. Just because Amazon's offering is more or less plain old DaaS doesn't mean the company is disadvantaged. Citrix, VMware and others congratulate Amazon, saying it validates the technology, which is another way of saying, "Great, more competition."

I was initially dismissive of Amazon WorkSpaces as just another DaaS offering with a big name behind it. Then I realized it's disruptive not because of the technology, but because of the company, infrastructure and existing customers behind it. In 2014, everyone will be talking about DaaS, even if they don't use it. Amazon is positioned to be a large voice in that conversation.

This was first published in November 2013

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