desktop as a service

AWS WorkSpaces may spark federal demand for desktop as a service

The recent announcement by Amazon Web Services of a new managed desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) offering called Amazon WorkSpaces may give a much-needed boost to governmentwide adoption of virtual desktops.

Amazon unveiled its WorkSpaces offering last week, entering a market dominated by EMC’s VMWare, Citrix Systems and Microsoft. 

Amazon WorkSpaces allows customers to provision cloud-based desktops so that they can access their documents and applications from their laptops, iPads, Kindle Fire or Android tablets. The service is priced aggressively: the monthly cost is anywhere from $35 to $75, depending on the amount of compute power, storage, bandwidth and software applications being purchased. Even better for budget-constrained government agencies, there is no up-front capital expenditures or commitment required. 

Analysts hailed Amazon’s WorkSpaces announcement for publicizing and legitimizing the DaaS market. 

"I am happy with this announcement from Amazon because it validates a lot of the points I’ve been making over the years including … DaaS removes complexity, DaaS removes cost, DaaS is the future,’’ said Gunnar Berger, Research Director of Gartner’s IT Professionals Service, in a blog post.

Amazon announced its new WorkSpaces virtual desktop offering just weeks after getting the go-ahead on a $600 million cloud computing contract with the CIA that was contested by IBM. 

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has 300-plus U.S. government customers, including the departments of State, Transportation, Energy and Agriculture as well as NASA. Amazon’s pay-as-you-go model has proved popular with agencies, who have access to the full suite of Amazon cloud computing services through AWS GovCloud, which runs inside Amazon data centers. 

The question is whether Amazon’s WorkSpaces offering will see an equally fast adoption rate by government agencies as its AWS GovCloud has experienced.

Many agencies are considering virtual desktops because of the cost savings they provide. Desktop computers cost twice as much as thin clients, consume 80 percent more power and require significantly more help desk and other support services. For example, Energy's Hanford expects to save $40 million between now and 2019 by migrating its entire workforce to virtualized desktops and thin clients.

Amazon says its cloud-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offers all the security and efficiency of on-premises offerings while eliminating the up-front investment and ongoing management costs. Gene Farrell, General Manager of Amazon WorkSpaces, says Amazon’s new offering will provide "secure, easy-to-manage, high-performance desktops at a fraction of the price of traditional VDI.’’ 

To ensure data security, Amazon has licensed technology from Teradici including its PC-over-IP protocol to compress, encrypt and encode the users’ desktop computing experience and transmit only pixels across a standard IP network to the users’ devices. The WorkSpaces Sync capabilities will allow users to sync their documents between their Amazon WorkSpaces and other computers so that they always have access to their documents. 

"PCoIP is a powerful protocol,’’ Berger said. "Someone at Amazon made a great call by teaming up with a company that has already been through this before [with VMware] and has made their protocol one of the defacto protocols for the remote Windows experience.’’ 

Shawn McCarthy, Research Director for IDC Government Insights, said Amazon may need to develop new channels in the federal market to sell its WorkSpaces offering.

"Most government agencies buy virtual desktops through a big systems integrator like SAIC or Lockheed,’’ McCarthy said. "Even if it’s hosted in an Amazon data center, they’re going to get the service through the integrator that’s handling their overall enterprise IT environment.’’ 

McCarthy added that Amazon’s WorkSpaces offering is worth watching given how successful the cloud computing vendor has been in the federal market. 

"Amazon winning management of the CIA infrastructure is a big deal. It’s a big feather in Amazon’s cap,’’ McCarthy said. "These guys are going to be taken seriously from now on.’’

About the Author

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisc., covering enterprise technology.


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