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Rent a virtual desktop from Amazon: 35 bucks a month (PC not included)

Stream a 'workspace' to your office ... Citrix and VMware, take note

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re:Invent 2013 Amazon is bringing its margin-destroying, no-fun business model to the thrilling world of virtual desktop infrastructure – and could upset the balance sheets of traditional VDI providers along the way.

The Amazon Workspaces technology was announced today during the inaugural keynote speech for the web bazaar's second-ever re:Invent annual cloud conference in Las Vegas.

The tech represents another step by Bezos & Co into the traditional enterprise, and will send a chill down the spine of VDI kingpins Citrix and VMware.

"You get to live that dream of centrally managing your desktops, but [with] no hardware, no software, no infrastructure, no long-term commitments," said Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy in his keynote speech, tiptoeing over the physical machines needed to display said centrally managed desktops.

The tech costs $35 a month and streams to your PC a system running Windows 7, Adobe Flash, Internet Explorer 9, Firefox, the Java Runtime Environment, and other apps – all powered by one virtual CPU, 50GB of storage, and 3.75GB of RAM per instance, or $60 for a slightly better system backed by two virtual CPUs, 7.5GB of RAM, and 100GB storage. If companies have further needs they can fork out an extra $15 per instance to get tools such as Microsoft Office, or Trend Micro gear for security.

"It's half the price of what the typical virtual desktop infrastructure solution is today," he says. "It's a very compelling value proposition."

Amazon published a cost analysis of an idealized Workspaces deployment versus a traditional system using on-premises infrastructure, and predictably demonstrated significant cost savings.

To reassure those cloud cognoscenti who are well aware of the variable nature of AWS instances, Jassy said "the operational performance will be consistent".

Workspaces is capable of maintaining persistent sessions, so a user can migrate from a laptop to a mobile device without losing their data, much like Google's own Chrome OS. The technology became available in a "limited preview" on Wednesday.

Workspaces will be delivered by a virtual private cloud that uses EC2 instances, and can be connected to on-premises tech such as an Active Directory via a virtual private network, the company said. Though Amazon doesn't specify the exact instance, we have a hunch the system uses the just-launched G2 servers because of their GRID GPU streaming features.

We reckon one early use of this technology will be along the lines of the desktop sharing feature built into Amazon's new Kindles, which were announced in September; for example, imagine a virtualized desktop shared with a help desk or admin to fix, as opposed to using a remote desktop protocol.

Though virtual desktop infrastructure has, much like the Linux desktop, been a technology always a year away from broad adoption, it can be a handy tool for organizations. With Workspaces, Amazon has further simplified the way people can consume the tech, and should give it another foothold inside traditional cloud-averse organizations. ®

Updated to add

After a bit of prodding, Amazon's VDI product team attempted to clarify to El Reg how its virtual desktop scheme works with Microsoft's Windows software licensing:

Amazon WorkSpaces is not based on Windows VDA [Virtual Desktop Access]. Amazon WorkSpaces provides the Windows 7 experience to end-users, delivered by Windows Server 2008 R2. All appropriate Microsoft licensing fees are paid by Amazon Web Services to Microsoft under the SPLA [Services Provider License Agreement] license program, and customers are not required to pay any additional license fee for each WorkSpace they provision.

No CAL [Client Access License] is included for WorkSpaces in our total cost of ownership analysis, as customers are not required to purchase any CALs to use the WorkSpaces service; they pay only the published monthly charge for each WorkSpace. In an on-premises environment, customers would be required to purchase a CAL.

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