Amazon Web Services eyes the desktop next

Amazon Web Services is huge and still growing - and it's aiming at the desktop next.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

According to Wikipedia, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is "a collection of remote computing services that together make up a cloud computing platform, offered over the internet" which in the simplest of terms is exactly what it is.

However, another way to describe AWS is as one of the fastest growing parts of one of the fastest growing businesses around. Formed just eight years ago in 2006, AWS began as 24 separate entities - divisions or product-specific working groups.

Since 2004 the number and size of these separate entities has grown considerably and in 2013 Amazon added 280 separate units, making a grand total of 654. In the first two months of this year it has added another 57.

Look at any org chart for AWS and it is complex - one from January this year shows 39 distinct divisions.

Such breakneck growth brings with it, its own problems. One is that people see it as being a three pronged supplier in the businesses of computing, networking and storage products. This a simple and as good a way of understanding the company as any other but people who work for Amazon tend to take a lightly different view of it.

"We actually deliver services that are a lot richer and offer a lot more value than you might expect," said AWS technical evangelist, Ian Massingham. "For example we have several services that are in the database and database management area. We try to make it very simple for customers to operate different kinds of data source. There is the relational database service (RDS) and using this customers can configure and create Oracle, PostgreSQL, MySQL or SQL Server databases."

In fact the inclusion of the up and coming PostgreSQL is an example of how fast things change at AWS - it only went into beta in February.

"Using RDS, customers can create databases using a variety of different instance types with different performance characteristics and we take care of deployment and configuration," said Massingham. AWS also takes care of automatic patching and back-ups, point-in-time recoveries, fail-over to slave hosts in the event that the primary host fails and replication between databases from different vendors.

But Amazon is also looking at extending beyond what it is well known for now - running processer intensive applications in the cloud - and is now looking at the looking at the desktop too.  In March it unveiled AmazonWorkSpace, a fully managed desktop computing service in the cloud. As is now the norm with AWS, it had been running WorkSpaces as a Beta version with some customers since November last year.

You might ask what WorkSpaces will mean for organisation whether they be users, small businesses or large corporates. Well, it means that at some point a company can take its current application that it may want to roll out to the field sales force and have it run within the AWS cloud. It could run in such a way that the employee or customer can log in and out of a system and use it exactly as if it was one of the company's own systems without realising that it is running in the Amazon cloud.

The advantage for the company would be the chance to hand over the running of their day-to-day systems to a third party - AWS - so that they can get on with other stuff.

AWS is offering different bundles including a standard performance bundle and a more high-performance bundle.

"There are already hundreds of users running EC2 instances," said Massingham, "so we see a lot of interest from customers who want to run a lot of desktops using AWS."

Amazon's argument is that it's not enough to have just a fast, powerful client; you also need to have the global network that can cope with moving the data from these huge apps.

Massingham pointed out: "When you look at what we can offer now, we are talking about here are the sort of features that used to be the preserve of the very large banks and financial houses."

He added: "Here at AWS an organisation like me, an individual, can have access to the same sort of infrastructure. So what we are seeing is a sort of democratisation effect where these high level constructs are available to small or medium sized organisations."

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