Amazon wants you to run Windows 7 on its cloud with WorkSpaces

Amazon wants you to run Windows 7 on its cloud with WorkSpaces

Summary: Virtual desktops have always been a tough sell in business, but now Amazon is giving it a try with its Amazon WorkSpaces. Can Amazon do for the virtual desktop what it already did for the cloud?


Amazon made the public Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud a major force in business IT with its Amazon Web Services (AWS). Now, the retail giant is betting that it can do the same with its new virtual desktop offering: Amazon WorkSpaces.


Amazon is far from the first to explore the idea of the Desktop-as-a-Service in the cloud. Toshiba, Dell, and VMware are all giving it a try. None, however, have Amazon's cloud chops.

Here's how Amazon WorkSpaces will work. The service will offer you a choice of desktop service bundles providing different hardware and software options to meet your business's needs. Each bundle provides a Windows 7 like desktop based on the Windows Server 2008R2 using its Destkop Experience Role. These, in turn, run off AWS.


With each bundle, Amazon provides the following programs: Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer 9, the latest version of Firefox, 7-Zip, Adobe Flash, and Java Runtime Environment (JRE). To this basic software package, you can also add your own software of choice.

Two of the bundles, Standard Plus and Performance Plus, also come with Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and Trend Micro Anti-Virus.

You'll be able to run these virtual desktops with the Amazon WorkSpaces client on both Windows and Mac computers. Amazon will also be providing clients for the iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android tablets. Amazon claims that the WorkSpaces Windows and Mac client will provide users with full access to their desktop and includes support for multiple monitors, audio, and video. With a Kindle Fire, or Android tablet, but not Apple's iPad, users can connect a keyboard or touch pad to have a laptop experience with their tablet WorkSpaces.

To secure these desktops, Amazon is using Teradici's proprietary PC over IP (PCoIP) protocol. On the cloud, PCoIP compresses, encrypts and rapidly transports image pixels to PCoIP end-user devices. The client then decompresses, decrypts and displays the image on a screen.

That sounds good, but in my experience, full graphic streaming virtual desktops tends to eat up bandwidth at an amazing rate. Amazon's data-center pipes may be able to handle the load, but you'll want to check carefully how your company's bandwidth does with the load before investing in technology.

Teradici claims that "Because the protocol transfers images only, in the form of pixel location information, no business information ever leaves the data center. In addition, because all software lies safely inside central systems, no one can tamper with service quality or introduce malware based on application infiltration. The PCoIP security module leverages the AES 256 and NSA Suite B cyphers, which meet the highest level of security required by governments."

To manage these desktops, Amazon enables you to use your existing Active Directory (AD). To make this happen, you'll need to set up an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) with a hardware virtual private network (VPN) connection to your on-premises environment, or provision a dedicated connection with AWS Direct Connect. Once linked up, you use the  AWS Management Console to select the users in your Active Directory who will receive a WorkSpace. That done, you manage your WorkSpaces users with the same tools that you use to manage any other desktop in your organization, with full administrative control. For example, you can deploy software and apply AD Group Policies to your WorkSpaces users.

Amazon claims that their approach is more more affordable than traditional virtual desktop infrastructures (VD), such as those provided by Citrix and VMware. In a total cost of ownership scenario with a thousand users, Amazon estimates that a WorkSpaces customer would save 59 percent over an old-style VDI.

Will you try it? Steve O'Grady, analyst and co-founder of the RedMonk developer focused industry analyst firm, tweeted "VDI has basically been the Linux desktop of IT. I will be interested to see if Amazon can change that."  In other words, it's a solution that looks great financially and technically but never gains real market traction in the desktop.

So, do you think with Amazon's mighty cloud data-centers behind it, VDI will finally gain users? Or will this be just another niche VDI offering?

Related Stories:

Topics: Virtualization, Amazon, Cloud, IT Priorities, Networking, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • IE 9???

    Really what's up with that Amazon?

    If you're going to offer old out of date software you may as well go home.
    • hmmm i guess the target for this is enterprises that dont update their apps

      Better offer XP with IE 8 then or even IE 6.
    • Who cares ...

      All of the bundles include Firefox. :)

      Perhaps Amazon did a bit of research and found that IE 9 was the most widely used version in enterprises. Or, perhaps, there were issues with IE 10. As for IE 11, it quite literally just came out for Windows 7.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • IE10 for Server 2008 came out on Feb 26/2013

      Few enterprises of the scale that Amazon is marketing to have adopted it yet. Certification efforts with internal apps, etc. And just not that high a priority, for a business dekstop.
    • Re: IE 9???

      This is done intentionally and is the right choice. This offering is intended for the enterprise. The enterprise is much slower to adopt upgrades in technology. Businesses need to think more about compatibility with their enterprise applications than needing to be on the latest and greatest. For example, some SAP software has problems working with IE10 (HANA, Charms, etc.). Amazon does not want to be in the position of telling potential customers that you are out of luck because we decided to put you on the latest version of IE.

      Also, once you have the desktop you can do what you want. If you want IE10 then upgrade it.
  • The utilities should include either OpenOffice or LibreOffice

    As neither the Standard nor Performance WorkSpace bundles include an office suite.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Teradivi claims...

    that "Because the protocol transfers images only, in the form of pixel location information, no business information ever leaves the data center."

    a bit misleading. the information (in the physics sense) does leave the data center. it may not matter much if it's ascii encoded characters or a bitmap representing those same characters.
    but, perhaps they are also using a proprietary graphics format.

    yes, the link is encrypted, which is good and may be fine for a g.p. computing device at the user's end. but how will low-horsepower mobile devices handle that load?
    • handling encryption

      Those "low-horsepower" mobile devices already have crypto engines in hardware so doing encryption really adds no overhead.

      There is much misunderstanding about the computing capabilities of today's portable devices. They usually have better crypto/GPU capabilities than the typical desktop and are only "weak" in tradition CPU performance -- but that performance is more than enough for the tasks they have to solve.

      Network latency is more of an issue here. You need to have an AWS instance close to you geographically for all this to make sense.
  • It's not Windows 7

    It can't be Windows 7 unless MS created a special licensing rule just for AWS (I doubt it). It will be 2008 RDS made to "look like" Win7.
    • Via RTFA - Server 2008R2

      "All WorkSpaces Bundles provide the Windows 7 Experience to users (provided by Windows Server 2008 R2)."
      • Article Updated

        The original version of this article claimed that it was proper Windows 7. It has since been updated by the author obviously.
  • It's Teradici, not Teradivi. And it works remarkably well.

  • Why does Azure not offer this?

    I've been very surprised that MS hasn't offered something like this in Azure. When they went public with Azure in 2009, I thought "this is it, they're going VDI/Desktop-as-a-Service". Then, when they updated RDP in 2010 with many WAN-centric improvements, I thought it again.

    But only recently did they even allow RDS services from Windows Server VMs running on Azure; and still no licensing for client VMs.

    They have Project Mohoro ( that's slated for 2nd half 2014. So that's their horizon on this.

    Just very curious to me that they haven't worked to dominate this solution space. Anyone have any idea why? Didn't want to cannibalize their own sales? Technical issues?
    • Re: Why does Azure not offer this?

      Microsoft actually announced something like this. I am too wondering, why it is not already offered.

      It seems Microsoft is discovering this "cloud" thing is not as trivial as they once believed, especially when you try to run it on Windows infrastructure. So my take on this is -- technical issues.

      But they also have what you say, the licensing issue -- for a company that size, they are recently trying to move too fast with modifying licenses and often see serious push back from customers. What I don't understand is why they insist in moving it all together, instead of chaining only certain bits.

      Such as, create VDI based on Azure for individuals and SMEs, sort out the licensing (those users bear more experiments on their backs), then offer Enterprise level services. The "consumer" level solution won't have to fully integrate AD, etc. It is indeed as if Microsoft can't let go of their wet dreams to get $200 a piece from anybody who wants to run Windows on their hardware. In fact, they could get much more money if Windows is offered as a service, on a subscription basis -- so that you can pay as you need -- and provided your data is actually disconnected form the Windows hosting service -- for example resides in a separately contracted SkyDrive service -- and you are not losing it when you no longer need Windows.
  • Mixed bag

    This service, as I see it is targeted squarely at "enterprises". What it does is provide different financing model than if you purchase the desktops and run it all locally. Enterprises in fact prefer paying this way, so in that sense it will be successful.

    For non-Enterprise environments, especially where you don't need AD integration, you could get pretty much the same functionality with an $50 Android stick attached to an $150 monitor/display/keyboard -- with virtually no support. In fact, you will need to have such setup at least, in order to access your desktop in the AWS cloud too.

    It is indeed a solution for those who must use Windows, but look at reducing their local support costs and capital expenditure.
  • mah

    with this prices, a business could buy an equivalent PC in 5 months, and for the rest of the year save money. Or better...with the price of 2 rented PC over a year build a 2000€ machine hosting 10 windows 7 virtualized desktops. So...where is the point to use Amazon? They should propose prices in the 5-25€ range...not more.
    • This isn't as much about hardware costs

      as support costs. Supporting computers costs quite a bit more than the computers and hardware themselves. It's that full lifecycle costing thing.

      Eventually when competition and maturity both become part of the marketing equation, you might get the cheaper rates you desire, but when comparing full life cycle costing, Amazon may just have an advantage.

      I'd still shy away personally, just because I remember the good old mainframe days and the pain in the posterior that it was. The PC changed things for the better in my book, and PC means PERSONAL Computer. The cloud as written here, means control.
      • Cynical99: "PC means PERSONAL Computer"

        How PERSONAL is one's Windows 7-based PC in an enterprise?

        In this day and age, virtually all enterprises employ file, application and database servers to support their users. Users have a personal folder and various project folders on file servers (via mapped drives) which get backed up nightly. IT repeatedly tells its users NOT to store files on their C:\ drive as they are not backed up.

        Information workers that require access to databases for reporting and analysis use either client software installed on their PCs or, increasingly, use their web browser which, in most cases, is Internet Explorer.

        Finally, most enterprise users operate in a standard user account with no local admin credentials. Increasingly, application whitelisting is being used to restrict the programs that enterprise users can run. This provides enterprises with protection against licensing violations, information leakage (think p2p software) and malware. Windows 7 for enterprises includes both Software Restriction Policy and AppLocker at no extra cost. Interestingly, information leakage is also a risk with end users that BYOC (Bring Your Own Cloud), which prompts many enterprises to block certain URLs from their users PCs.

        From the perspective of the users, whether a server is located in the building's basement or on Amazon's EC2 Cloud doesn't matter much. Depending on the nature of the enterprise, it may not matter much either. (in some cases, though, it may matter *A LOT*.) I've seen plenty of enterprise-managed servers go down for various reasons over the years.

        P.S. Am not trying to make the case that Amazon's WorkSpaces are appropriate for everyone.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Amazon wants you to run Windows 7 on its cloud with WorkSpaces

    This seems like quite the hassle to get up and running. Doesn't mention who provides support for the software or how to go about supporting it or how to install the custom software which almost every company uses.

    There are no cost savings. $35 * 12 months = $420. Average PC life is 3 years so its $1260 for the cheapest package. The PC and software can be had for much cheaper and give you better ROI.
  • Amazon has got to be kidding

    This will reduced your computer to the status of a dumb terminal with a very long, wireless cable to the server. And when the Internet or server have problems...? You think that a Chromebook is useless without Internet connection, what about this IaaS? Even Amazon has outages in its cloud service.

    You think this will eliminate software problems that you currently have with Windows? Not really. What Amazon is doing is adding an additional, complex layer of software overlaying the OS.

    What about those with less than high speed connections? What about slow down during peak usage periods? Even SJVN admits this will be a problem: "... full graphic streaming virtual desktops tends to eat up bandwidth at an amazing rate." And, of course, bandwidth is paid for. Want your billing to go up at an "amazing rate?"

    And think of the possibilities for hackers. Just hack into the server and you can grab ALL information for ALL users at one time.

    And, on top of all that, you are going to pay monthly for this forever?

    No thank you. I'll keep the OS where it belongs, on my computer.