What is Amazon WorkSpaces & How Does It Work?

Giant-slaying technology and cloud desktops, all at the click of a button.
Experts in Amazon WorkSpaces Working on End User Computing

Bill's high-school English classes came flooding back as he sat at his desk, pondering where he had gone wrong. 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness.' Charles Dickens had written those words in A Tale of Two Cities over 160 years earlier but they felt as relevant now as they ever had. As the CEO of a business that was poised to expand, Bill worried that he gotten off on the wrong foot, that he had chosen foolishness over wisdom. 

His strategy to scale up fast had gotten mired down in technology that didn't work well enough, that required a large team of IT professionals just to keep it running, and that was getting more and more expensive all the time. 

In desperation, he began researching other options, and finally stumbled upon Amazon WorkSpaces. But was it too late to pivot? 

Never before have there been so many opportunities for small, agile businesses to go global and compete against large entrenched players. A managed, secure cloud desktop service like Amazon WorkSpaces delivers all the power of Amazon's global cloud business to help your business scale up at an astonishing rate, while containing costs, providing transparency and keeping your data secure.

The Predicament of Uncontrolled Growth

privo_up1How did Bill get into this predicament? His boutique insurance company had been doing very well in their local community before they won a contract that gave them access to a global marketplace and untold opportunities. The first order of business for Bill was to create an agile, mobile workforce that could get out there and sell the products he had worked so hard to create. 

He knew it was possible to do, but it was proving harder than it should have been. 

The 200 brand new laptops he'd bought and proudly distributed just a few months ago were proving to be more of a liability than an asset.  First, his people spent too much staring at their screens, just waiting. Click, wait, click, wait, click, wait. He had paid extra to get the latest CPUs and gobs of RAM, but it didn't help. 

Like most businesses today, his employees didn't process data locally on their laptops, they mostly accessed applications that were hosted in the cloud.  Therefore, every click meant they had to wait for the request to makes its way to the cloud, and for the response to come back.  These round trips only took a blink of an eye, but they happened dozens of times per minute, causing slow motion torture for his people and a real performance bottleneck. Worse, those laptops required constant care and feeding. Users reported a wide range of problems, from annoying to debilitating, on a daily basis, and the problems got worse as the laptops spent more time in the wild.

Finally, Bill worried constantly about security. Those laptops had extremely sensitive customer data on them and he knew it only took 1 careless employee to leave a laptop in a Lyft, or let their 15-year-old install the latest malware infested free game to create catastrophic breach.

Many of us have experienced the same sorts of frustrations as Bill.  We find ourselves in the era of end-user computing, which is defined by TechTarget as benefiting 'organizations by securely enabling a mobile, distributed workforce. Its major disadvantage, despite all the work that has gone into unified management, is its complexity.' 

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At Privo, we firmly believe that the time has finally come for cloud desktops. Full disclosure: We haven't always felt this way, but the incredible strides that Amazon has taken with this product in recent years has made us re-evaluate and come down hard in favor of this breath-taking technology. Cloud desktops are fast because they sit right next the cloud-hosted applications employees use. They are hassle free because they are centrally managed and can be reverted to a "golden image" with the click of a mouse.  And they help you sleep at night because they are vastly more secure than laptops--your secure data never leaves the Amazon data center.

The Three Fundamental Options Available

There are three ways you can go when you're equipping your information workers; namely 

A hodgepodge of laptops and desktops

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) (a.k.a "Cloud Desktops")

When you're searching for the solution that works for you, there are six simple questions which need to be asked and answered in order to arrive at the optimal solution:

Is it easy-to-manage?

Is it scalable?

Cost effective?

Is the platform secure?

How easy is it to access?

Is the solution high-performing?

By using a scorecard approach to each of those 6 questions, it's possible to dispassionately arrive at the solution which works best for you.

Let's start by looking at what you get with desktops and laptops.

Client with Amazon WorkSpaces on Mac
Buying and managing desktops/laptops
  • Getting started is easy to manage. You simply go out and buy as many laptops you need and connect them back to your server. But things can get out of hand quickly. Buying, shipping and configuring them all is hard to manage.
  • This method is scalable, in a sense. You can simply buy more when you need them. But if you need to scale down then you are left with a whole lot of hardware that you don't need.
  • While the initial cost is affordable, the problems come with ongoing maintenance. Laptops are very expensive to manage. The bulk of cost is paying people to manage the constant issues, and the hidden costs of lost productivity for affected employees.
  • Security is the big issue in this scenario. No two are the same. Sooner or later, you're forced to grant admin rights to a user so they can install something, which can open the door to a malware infection. Not to mention the fact that your corporate data gets distributed all over the place.
  • Access from laptops is easy. The challenge is that, with the mass migration from on-premise servers to the cloud, the laptops are often accessing data that is quite far away, creating the slow torture latency issue.
  • Performance used to be the single most important reason why laptops and desktops were chosen for this type of distributed work. That is no longer the case, as the task of accessing applications across the network and the 'round trip time' it takes has become the most critical factor.
VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
  • VDI is easier to manage than laptops and desktops once it's setup. But the setup is technical and time-consuming. You have to provision data center space, buy and rack servers, acquire data storage and so on. It's a good system to use but it's very complicated, and requires a highly specialized IT team to manage it.
  • Not particularly scalable. It can be done but it takes time and is very labor intensive to do so. You have to provision more storage, more server space, more racks, and all of that requires more people to keep it running.
  • Security is excellent with VDI seeing as the data does not leave the data center at all.
  • Easy to access. Once up and running, access is smooth particularly with Zen Desktop or VMWare View.
  • If you over-provision your VDI server farm, you can give a good user experience...But if there's a problem anywhere in the VDI infrastructure, for example if a server goes offline, then it can really grind the system to a halt, as everyone is sharing the same infrastructure. Without a significant amount of redundancy built in, your organization will experience some bad days.

You can think of VDI as a big step in the right direction, in terms of centralizing your data and infrastructure but it comes at significant cost.

Which brings us to the third way of building a distributed workforce, namely DaaS and in particular, Amazon WorkSpaces, which is Amazon's cloud desktop service.

The Benefits and ROI of Using Amazon Workspaces

So what exactly are we talking about when we talk about WorkSpaces? 'Introduced in 2014, WorkSpaces offers a secure, easy-to-manage, Linux or Windows desktop with the ability to scale globally in a matter of days and pay-as-you-go pricing', according to Doug Heestand, one of the partners at Privo.

When you relate the six questions to WorkSpaces, you find that:

Computer on Network with AWS Cloud Migration Services
Easy to get started

It's incredibly easy to get started. You can have your first WorkSpace up and running in a matter of minutes. You need no hardware, storage or networking and it's easy to connect WorkSpaces to your existing directory. There are a range of tools for managing apps and a simple web interface and that's all the setup that is needed.

Scalability is built into the system

Global scalability is built into the system. You can add WorkSpaces in other regions of the world with a few clicks of a mouse. Provisioning servers, networking, storage, etc. suddenly become Amazon's responsibility.

No upfront capital
No upfront capital at all is required. You pay very reasonable monthly prices, which are made possible by Amazon's economies of scale. When you look at the true total cost of ownership, you'll see that neither of the other options can come anywhere close to the affordability of WorkSpaces.
The Amazon security team
WorkSpaces offers the Amazon security team who are managing the core infrastructure that you're accessing. Whatever compliance issues you need to address are delivered straight out of the box. All communications between users and WorkSpaces are encrypted. 'The biggest threat in a modern network is malware,' explains Heestand, 'but with WorkSpaces you're not giving your users administrative rights', which negates that issue almost entirely. And, just like VDI, your secure data never leaves the data center.
Accessible from anywhere
WorkSpaces is accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection, and from a wide range of devices. From PC to tablet, Chromebooks, even a modern web browser...WorkSpaces is built with mobility and global reach in mind.
Performance
Finally, when it comes to performance, WorkSpaces finally checks all the boxes, including multiple hi-res displays, fluid video and audio playback, and crazy low latency for accessing your cloud-hosted applications. Every user gets their own server hardware (no sharing!) and if there is a subset of users who need more horsepower, you can easily configure give them more RAM, CPU, and GPU resources to make them happy.

When we look at what matters to most IT managers, it becomes clear that there are pros and cons to everything, but that Amazon's DaaS offering scores well across the board.

And one more thing (to coin an Apple phrase)....whenever you do run into a problem, you are able to reset the system to a clean slate within a couple of minutes. This reset feature dramatically limits the need for troubleshooting and for a large IT department to manage your network.

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Ready to give WorkSpaces a test drive?

Get in touch with us right now for a proposal.

How To Build For Today's Workforce

Understand that you are in a war for talent. Understand that the best developers, marketers and strategists have many employers trying to sign them, and offering all kinds of incentives to make that happen. And what do most people want? Flexibility and mobility.

Studies have shown that one third of people who quit their jobs do so because of a lack of flexibility. This is a particularly important issue for women. Companies that offer mobility options tend to have a four times as many women working for them as companies that are stuck in traditional working paradigms. Forbes magazine wrote recently that "a Gallup poll reported that 43% of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. These workers are also using multiple devices. The average employee uses 2.3 devices to complete work, while 14% of workers use six devices or more."

With better collaboration, more mobility, faster connectivity and the global power of Amazon behind you, it's safe to say that WorkSpaces is the most forward-thinking way to grow a global workforce.

8 Specific Benefits of WorkSpaces That Will Transform Your Workforce

Eliminate many administrative tasks associated with managing your desktop life-cycle including provisioning, deploying, maintaining, and recycling desktops.

Eliminate the need to over-buy desktop and laptop resources by providing on-demand access to cloud desktops.

Deployed within an Amazon Virtual Private Network (VPC), WorkSpaces provides each user with access to persistent, encrypted storage volumes in the AWS Cloud.

Stop wasting time trying to predict how many desktops you need or what configuration those desktops should be. Amazon WorkSpaces offers a range of CPU, memory, and solid-state storage bundle configurations that can be dynamically modified.

Choose from a number of productivity application bundles with your WorkSpaces, including  Windows 7, Windows 10, or Amazon Linux 2 desktop experience. 

Integrate securely with your existing corporate directory, including Microsoft Active Directory, as well as multi-factor authentication tools so that your users can easily access company resources.

Provide access to high performance cloud desktops across 12 AWS regions, and rapidly provision and de-provision desktops as the needs of your workforce change.

Let your users access their Amazon WorkSpaces from any supported device, including Windows and Mac computers, Chromebooks, iPads, Fire tablets, through Chrome or Firefox web browsers.   

By using a scorecard approach to each of those 6 questions, it's possible to dispassionately arrive at the solution which works best for you.

Let's start by looking at what you get with desktops and laptops.

Watch our webinar where we take you on a deep dive into WorkSpaces:

The Staggering Variety of Uses For WorkSpaces

The longer Bill spent researching his next steps, the more stories he read about how many of the companies that he respected and admired were using WorkSpaces. 

He noted that Cornell University got a 'Master’s level course up and running in less than three weeks and provide students with access to industry-relevant applications integrated into the course and labwork.' He was surprised to find out that software maker Autodesk was using Amazon WorkSpaces to run on-site training labs at its Autodesk University events for thousands of professionals in the architecture, design and manufacturing industries. 

It began to seem that moving everything to the cloud was finally possible. In Italy, the Court of Auditors uses WorkSpaces "for auditing and overseeing the accounts and budgets of all public institutions in Italy...", while the senior supervisor at Yamaha exclaimed that 'We are now working to retire our on-premises VDI solution entirely.” 

If these brands that he admired so much could make it work for them, the there was no reason it wouldn't work for him. Despite the fact that Bill had started down one path, he had learned enough to know that it wasn't too late to go all-on on the cloud and future-proof it with the weight of Amazon behind him. 

But what way the best way to get started? Simply to start. 

Chris Chapin, the End-User Computing (EUC) Team Lead at Privo notes that  "Amazon has an amazing and generous free tier. You can create an account which includes 2 standard bundle WorkSpaces that can be run for 40 hours per month for 2 months, and which includes 50Gb free word doc storage." 

That's enough to give you a real sense of what can be accomplished and how well it matches your needs. It will also give you the vocabulary to begin talking to consulting partners about how to plan your transition. 

Finding partners that work with you

While it is easier to start your company from scratch on WorkSpaces, most people have to migrate from their existing solution and no IT migration is without its challenges. Building a business that needs to scale is hard enough on it's own, without having to also learn the technological knowledge that would help it go global. 

It makes sense to work with people who are experienced and who focus exclusively on migrating and managing infrastructure to take advantage of AWS. 

Privo is 100% focused on Amazon Web Services' cloud platform.  That's all we do.

We'd love to engage with you and talk about the ways we access:

AWS infrastructure migration, management, and optimization (including WorkSpaces)

AWS cost optimization

AWS planning and assessments

Expertise and best practice in all things AWS!

So if you're a bit like Bill and you're ready to get the conversation started, then get in touch today and let's get going. 

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We don't waste your time selling you on Privo or AWS.

We’ll get as technical as you want to get on the first call to make sure we're on the same page.