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Under the hood of Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon WorkSpaces has gotten a lot of lip service in the DaaS market. It doesn’t require a long-term commitment and its pricing is competitive. But it's SLA-free and doesn't let you host Windows client OSes.

Amazon WorkSpaces has done its part to shake up the DaaS market. With no long-term commitment, competitive pricing and Active Directory integration, it's a viable choice for companies looking to host desktops in the cloud.

But it's not an earth-shattering offering. There are plenty of other desktop as a service (DaaS) platforms and products on the market that IT shops can choose. And WorkSpaces has downsides: There's no service-level agreement (SLA), desktops are Windows Server-based rather than true client OSes and the process to set up Active Directory (AD) integration is a little labor-intensive.

Get the rundown on how and where Amazon hosts cloud desktops, what exactly you need to do to set up WorkSpaces, how much it's going to cost you and more.

How it works: Each WorkSpace is a persistent Windows Server 2008 R2 instance that looks like Windows 7, hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. Desktops are streamed to users via PCoIP. By default, data gets backed up every 12 hours, but users with WorkSpaces Sync get the added benefit of backing one folder up to S3 continuously. As of this writing, there is no SLA, however.

What you need to do: On the administrative end, you need to set up WorkSpaces for users. They will receive an email with instructions on how to connect to their desktops, or you can supply that information to them once the WorkSpace is ready. If you connect Amazon WorkSpaces to AD, you can take advantage of the same management tools you use on other desktops and workers can use their AD credentials to log in. There are two ways to establish AD integration: You can use WorkSpace Connect to link WorkSpaces with AD, or you can configure Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) with a hardware virtual private network connection back to your data center.

Once you have AD integration, you can manage the workspace the same way you would any other desktop. This means you can enforce any necessary configurations or security measures, such as prohibiting local storage, for example. Additionally, if you've set up VPC, you can use AWS Direct Connect to establish a private connection to the AWS cloud.

What workers need: Users will need an Internet connection with TCP and UDP ports open, and they'll have to download a free Amazon WorkSpaces client application for the device they're going to access their workspace from. Supported devices include PC, Mac, Kindle Fire, Apple iPad and Android tablets. Workers will use either the credentials that you supply them, or their AD information to log into their desktops.

By default, users can change desktop wallpapers, icons and other settings, but you can lock down the workspaces and restrict users' ability to change settings through Group Policy. Users are also local administrators of their own WorkSpaces by default, but you can change that too.

What it costs: Amazon WorkSpaces uses a pay-as-you-go model and there's no long-term commitment. This sets it apart from other DaaS platforms and providers.

There are four bundles with varying features and costs. All bundles come with Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer 9, Firefox, WinZip and Adobe Flash. The Standard bundle gets you 1 virtual CPU (vCPU), 3.75 GB of memory and 50 GB of storage per user for $35 a month. Standard Plus adds Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and a few other applications for $50 per month. At $60 per month, the Performance bundle has the basic applications, but double the hardware resources -- 2 vCPU, 7.5 GB of memory and 100 GB of storage. Performance Plus is one step up from that, adding Office Professional 2010 (and other apps) for $75/month.

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