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What's in a name? 'Workspace' tools run the gamut

There are a handful of products with names that are a riff on 'workspace.' VMware, Citrix, Amazon and smaller companies all have their hats in the ring, but not all workspace tools do the same thing. Some are for DaaS, but others are mobile-focused.

Virtualization and mobility management vendors really want you to know that they have the workspace tools you need.

At least that's what customers have to deduce from the fact that almost every big-name vendor and their grandmother has come out with products called "workspace," with variations in capitalization, of course.

But not all these "workspace" tools do the same thing. Some are for desktop as a service (DaaS), but others are for mobility management, containerization on mobile devices, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and more. And while Citrix, Amazon and VMware all have workspace tools, they're not the only providers getting in on the name game. Smaller companies such as IndependenceIT have products called workspace, too. If you're foggy on which workspace tool does what, we'll help you get it straight.

VMware Horizon Workspace

Horizon Workspace is VMware's enterprise mobility management offering. It's made up of Horizon Application Manager, Horizon Mobile and Horizon Data. Application Manager lets you manage users' access to applications, Horizon Mobile is a mobile virtualization and app wrapping tool, and Horizon Data is for cloud storage.

Horizon Workspace lets users access virtual desktops, corporate data and applications through one interface from any device. It also delivers apps to browsers and helps keep data secure by using single sign-on. Employees with Android and iOS devices download Horizon View clients to access their virtual desktops, but other mobile devices use HTML5 and AppBlast. In a nutshell, VMware's Horizon Workspace helps IT manage data, applications, devices and identity.

Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon Web Services (AWS) WorkSpaces is a DaaS product. Amazon hosts persistent Windows Server 2008 R2 instances in its cloud and delivers them to users via PCoIP for a monthly subscription fee. There are other providers that do this as well, but with WorkSpaces there's no long-term commitment or minimum desktop requirements. As with other DaaS tools, this means the storage and infrastructure maintenance are left to AWS, not to IT. There are WorkSpaces clients for Mac and PC, as well as mobile versions for Apple's iPad, Android tablets and Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX.

WorkSpaces has Active Directory integration and file syncing capabilities with WorkSpaces Sync, and it's generally available in some parts of the US as of this writing, but it lacks a service-level agreement. That will keep larger companies interested in DaaS from jumping into WorkSpaces, for now.

Amazon's pricing for WorkSpaces is competitive with other DaaS providers, but customers who want nonpersistent sessions can get them from companies such as tuCloud for cheaper than Amazon's persistent ones, and you can buy fully loaded desktops from Citrix's providers for a pretty penny -- upwards of $200 apiece.

Citrix Workspace Services and Workspace Suite

Citrix has not one but two products called Workspace: Workspace Services and the Workspace Suite.

The Workspace Suite pulls together XenDesktop, XenApp, ShareFile, mobile apps and other Citrix tools and delivers them through any cloud you want, on- or off-premises. It's basically a management platform that you can use to host all your services, and it lets users access that content on a self-service basis. The suite is available now, but Citrix's other Workspace product -- Workspace Services -- won't be out in TechPreview until later this year.

Workspace Services lets you design custom mobile workspaces -- desktops, applications, mobile services and more -- and deliver them from different clouds. You can run the Workspace Suite on the Workspace Services platform. The management consoles live in Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud, but you can deliver the workloads from any cloud you like, public or private. When the product first launches, it will only be available as a cloud service from Citrix, but eventually it will extend to on-premises infrastructures. For companies doing DaaS, Workspace Services might be a boon because you can separate workloads into different clouds; the closer you are to the cloud your desktops are hosted in, the less latency you'll see. Workspace Services also automates management and configuration. But hosting different components in different clouds means juggling multiple contracts.

IndependenceIT Cloud Workspace Suite

IndependenceIT's Cloud Workspace Suite is for DaaS, too, but it's different from Amazon WorkSpaces because it doesn't lock customers into one platform and provider. It's infrastructure and hypervisor agnostic, so you can run it on Azure, AWS, Google Compute Engine or pretty much anywhere else you want. Again, this comes in handy if you want to host your desktops close to where users physically are, which improves performance. The suite lets you manage all the clouds through a single pane of glass.

BlackBerry Secure Work Space

Secure Work Space from BlackBerry lets BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 customers deploy secure, encrypted containers on workers' Apple and Android devices. BlackBerry Balance does something similar for BlackBerry devices. In companies that support bring your own device programs, secure containers can be attractive because they separate the personal information that workers store on their devices from the work data that they need to be productive on the go.

Dell vWorkspace

Back in July 2012 when Dell acquired Quest, the company welcomed vWorkspace into the fold. It's for delivering virtual desktops, but it gives you more flexibility than VDI from VMware or Citrix because you can choose whether you want to use Hyper-V and do full VDI, or use Remote Desktop Session Host. Version 8 MR1 of vWorkspace has support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2, and it has some interesting components, including HyperCache and HyperDeploy. Together, these two technologies are called Catalyst, and they optimize memory and streamline provisioning.

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