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Even though WorkSpaces is currently only available as a limited preview, Amazon’s cloud-based VDI service made a stable impression on me. Everything worked as described in version 0.1 of the documentation.
Desktop as a Service (DaaS)
In my series about the Amazon Web Services, I gave an overview of WorkSpaces. For the sake of completeness in this review, I will repeat a few things here. The virtual desktops in WorkSpaces run a Windows 7–like desktop provided by Windows Server 2008 R2. A virtual desktop in Amazon’s cloud is called a WorkSpace.
Amazon WorkSpace - Windows Server 2008 R2 with Desktop Experience
Whereas “the other guy” at brianmadden.com claimed that WorkSpaces is based on Remote Desktop Session Host, VDI guru Brian Madden correctly remarked that Amazon can’t use Remote Desktop Session Host because of Microsoft’s licensing policy. A cloud service where customers have to buy their own standalone Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license (PDF) for each client device doesn’t make sense.
In Server Manager, on my WorkSpace, I could verify that Remote Desktop Session Host role isn’t installed. Instead, each WorkSpace runs on a single-user Windows Server instance using the Desktop Experience role of Windows Server 2008 R2.
Server Manager running on WorkSpace - Remote Desktop Services role is not installed
Users connect via Teradici’s PCoIP protocol to their virtual desktops using Amazon’s WorkSpaces client. RDP is not supported. The client software is available for Windows, Mac, iPad, Kindle Fire, and Android tablets.
Amazon calls WorkSpaces a fully managed desktop computing service. However, I think it would be more correct to talk in terms of a semi-managed service. This essentially means that Amazon takes care of the “I” in “VDI,” and you have to manage the “VD” part.
The infrastructure part is, of course, the entire hardware on the server side; however, it also includes software such as the connection broker, the provisioning tools, and the Active Directory domain controllers. Managing the virtual desktops means that you are responsible for updating Windows, installing the software, configuring Group Policy, etc.
You pay a monthly rate for each provisioned WorkSpace. A WorkSpace is a virtual desktop for one user—that is, only one account is able to log on. If multiple users are supposed to work with one desktop, they have to share one account. Four different hardware and software configurations, which Amazon calls Bundles, are available:
|Bundle||Rate||vCPUs||RAM||Storage||MS Office||Trend Micro|
Depending on the Bundle you choose, some applications are already pre-installed. The two Plus-Bundles come with Microsoft Office 2010 Professional (Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, Publisher and Access) and Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Security Services. For my test, I used the Standard Bundle, which came pre-installed with Firefox, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, and 7-Zip.
Provisioning WorkSpaces Bundles is fairly simple. In the WorkSpaces web interface, you have to enter the user name, the user’s first and last name, and the user’s email address. In addition, you select the Bundle for each user—that is, you can work with multiple Bundles. In the preview version, it is not possible to import users; therefore, you must add all users manually. For the VDI experts: We are in a persistent (stateful) VDI environment where each user can have its own desktop configuration, installed applications, application settings etc.
Add new WorkSpaces users
In my test, the WorkSpace was available within a few minutes.
Your WorkSpaces are being provisioned
Once the WorkSpace is provisioned, the user will receive an email with a link to the download page of the WorkSpaces client and a registration code. The registration code is required for the first login where the user has to set the password.
Registration code - First password - WorkSpaces login
Everyone who has used a PC before should be able to accomplish the first logon without help. Of course, this procedure requires that the user has the right to install software on the client device. If not, you have to deploy the WorkSpaces client on behalf of the user before you provision the WorkSpace.
In the next part of this series, I will say a few things about the user experience of Amazon WorkSpaces.