What Problem Does Amazon Workspaces Really Solve?

confused about choicesAmazon’s announcement about their new desktop as a service (DaaS) solution grabbed a lot of attention as Amazon’s AWS announcements often do.  However, even after a list of questions from Brian Madden were answered by Amazon I am even more perplexed about what Amazon is doing and how it would help a business looking to leverage desktops as a service. Check out the list of questions and responses here

One Amazon response I do agree with is if they provide a service to me, do I really care how they provide it as long as it meets my performance expectations. Simply put, no I don’t care how they make the sausage as long as they do it in a way that wouldn’t violate some other requirement or security constraint upon me.  So with regards to hardware or software PCoIP encoding I don’t care. But I do care about how they implement backups, access controls, upgrades, and system availability. Just because I am outsourcing an IT service as the CIO or IT manager doesn’t mean I abdicate any responsibility for ensuring that service enables my company to do its daily business.  Whether it is an internally or externally provided IT service, my company is in trouble and unable to work if desktops aren’t available, functioning, and secure. So as the customer of any service I must have enough knowledge to understand what I am receiving, what implications it has for security, licensing, and data protection. However, Amazon doesn’t really provide me desktop as a service that is comprehensive enough to be useful.  They are giving me the equivalent of a desktop with an internet connection and TeamViewer installed.  If something happens to that persistent desktop like the registry gets corrupted, it gets a trojan, or any other issue admins deal with day to day on a desktop, I as the customer have to figure out how to fix it.  And that user is out of commission until I get it fixed.  On the other hand if it was truly a complete service where they worried about making sure all of the applications installed were up to date and available to all my approved users, they worried about licensing issues, and they ensured everything was working for my users just like my internal help desk would then that would truly be desktop as a service.  This is just desktop infrastructure as a service, they haven’t solved the hard part of maintaining desktops for users.

In my opinion, Amazon is equivocally communicating that they are offering virtual desktop infrastructure to their customers at unbeatable prices.  In reality it is my opinion that they are offering an out of date architecture and way of thinking about desktops that will not serve any organization well.  They want to use a physical desktop way of thinking in a new kind of hosted and virtual desktop world.  See my previous post on persistent and non-persistent desktops. This is quite a surprise to me from a company that typically thinks in terms of web scale infrastructure.  They aren’t passing on the value and benefits of virtual desktops to customers. They are just showing a ‘low price’ for desktop infrastructure as a service.  They have only solved 10% of the problem (the easy part) and leaving the heavy lifting to the customer.  I recognize this is only a preview product and they will iterate the solution based on feedback and that is probably part of why they have contradictory and incorrect information in their responses to Brian Madden (i.e. Microsoft Office licensing).  Their response doesn’t align with the official policy on Amazon’s web page regarding Microsoft License Mobility.

Anyone who has been involved with virtual desktops very long knows that the infrastructure purchase is a minimal portion of the total cost of managing desktops.  With the solution from Amazon as it is today it will not be an economical winner in considering total cost of ownership because it will create a great burden on the IT organization to manage these persistent hosted desktops.  In a large centralized office it will require higher low latency bandwidth to Amazon, and the monthly cost will exceed a desktop purchase option within 3-months because remember you still need access devices and so you haven’t eliminated the need for a desktop, tablet, laptop, or zero client.  With a proper virtual desktop infrastructure, hosted or purchased, customers can lower their total cost of ownership for end user computing through increased security and higher user productivity.  Amazon is addressing only a fragment of the problem and as it stands now it will not be useful to many business organizations.