My career start over 15 years ago was working directly for Citrix as part of their Consulting Services. It, along with their competitor VMware Horizon continue to provide a robust set of features catered to a large diverse set of use cases which is why they continue to be the go-to VDI providers. It is amazing that these products continue to evolve and introduce enhancements, driven by the customer requests and the evolution of the underlying operating systems.
The age-old discussion has resurfaced the reoccurring subject of whether VDI solutions with high licensing cost are justified. As more organisations move to increase public Cloud usage, it seems only natural to explore their VDI solutions and today I’d like to focus on Amazon’s offering. It perhaps doesn’t raise as much clout as Microsoft’s evolution of RDS into Microsoft WVD that provide multi-session desktop options delivered from Azure, but as AWS is the leading Cloud provider with more global locations and a much larger market share, AWS states they have over 1 million workspace users and more enterprises are currently evaluating. Amazon is currently sweetening the deal, through the 31st of July 2021 by providing up to 50 users for free in AutoStop mode for up to 40 hours of combined usage per month for up two calendar months.
So should you be considering Amazon WorkSpaces? The quick correct but also infuriating answer as in so much of IT is “it depends.” Stay tuned to find out why and when, its usage makes sense.
What is Amazon WorkSpaces?
To evaluate a solution you first have to understand the offering. Amazon WorkSpaces is Amazon’s only secure cloud desktop service. As would be expected by a Cloud Provider, the solution allows you to quickly scale and pay for what you consume, selecting by different bundle options that are composed of different computer resources and storage capacity with monthly (Always On) or hourly (Auto Stop) consumption. Leveraging public Cloud allows for creation of multi-site and even multi-region services more easily than most companies can achieve with on-premises data centres and Amazon provides a service commitment of at least 99.9% uptime for their WorkSpaces Offering.
Unlike most solutions Amazon WorkSpaces only provides one desktop flavour. With Microsoft, Citrix or VMware, you can select from non-persistent or persistent desktops. Amazon WorkSpaces provides each desktop with two volumes with distinct purposes, the root volume and the user volume.
The root volume is built from the base image of the bundle and can be thought of the same as the operating system disk. This is where all the program files will be contained.
User specific data is stored in the user volume. This volume is much like a roaming profile and contains only the structure of a User Profile. It should not be used to store applications.
Snapshots of both the volume are taken approximately 12 hours and its process is fully managed by Amazon. Amazon WorkSpaces can restore to the most recent snapshot of the data volume or both the data and user volume. As the data volume is kept completely separate this provides the benefit of being able to restore or rebuild independently.
Although there is only one desktop flavour that largely mirrors a persistent desktop, two different desktop models can be achieved:
Where the WorkSpace is locked down properly, the data drive can effectively be treated as a non-persistent space
Where the user works freely within the WorkSpace to add applications and make changes as required, it provides a persistent desktop.
The problem with the latter options is when an update is required, this can’t be introduced by simply migrating to a new bundle and will have to be done within each WorkSpace. Additionally, if an issue occurs with the WorkSpace and restoring to the snapshot does not fix the issue, a rebuild to the base bundle could be required resulting in a loss in changes made to the data volume. As such before implementing this option you should understand the criticality of retaining these data changes. We generally recommend creating the first option and only considering the latter when the loss in data is not as critical but you want to empower users with changes beyond the User Volume.
So Is Amazon WorkSpaces right for us?
Are you an Organisation that’s heavily invested in Amazon? Is your use case largely for providing users access to application/desktops and less critical the availability of data? In these cases, Amazon WorkSpace might be a good choice for your organisation. But what if user data is really critical? Fear not, Amazon Workspaces can still be used. By coupling the solution with FSLogix for Profile Management, we have effectively been able to provide customers with more robust fallback and high availability capabilities.
Amazon continues to evolve and build on the products features set. GA of webcam support was just announced on the 22nd of April, providing the ability to use videoconferencing like Microsoft Teams and Zoom within the virtualised desktop. But the expectation of the solution shouldn’t be that it would provide feature parity to the leading vendors. The following is a summary table of features that I’d recommend evaluating a VDI solution:
* Windows 10 requires BYOL and a minimum commit for consumption.
** WorkSpaces Streaming Protocol (WSP) Only
So are you still considering Amazon WorkSpaces? For other client’s we have worked with them to understand in detail their requirements and determine the best VDI solution for their needs and approximate costs as part of VDI Assessment. Beyond the table above there are some important concepts to understand in how Amazon WorkSpaces works and intricacies of features supported with different devices and protocol. Even if Amazon WorkSpaces does not fit there are other solutions that are built-on Amazon.
Are you ready to move forward with Amazon WorkSpaces? Our team can assist with our deep insight for the creation of a streamline and optimised image coupled with FSLogix for profile management to onboard your users stress free. Our expertise can also help with creation of your Cloud Landing Zone to setup their AWS Accounts security, scalability and resilience required by programmatically creating the building blocks of a successful environment. Please drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss more.
Did you find this valuable? Would you like us to focus on additional offerings, like Amazon’s virtual application offering AppStream? Would you like us to dive deeper on WorkSpaces features such as the new WorkSpace Streaming Protocol to understand how it stacks up? Let us know.