Why AWS Workspaces is the future of VDI

I don’t want to bury the lede here – I think AWS Workspaces is the future of hosted desktop platforms. I’m going to share why.

I spent an earlier part of my career designing, building, managing and fixing Citrix environments. Some of these were small, some of them large. Back then, Citrix was the right answer – often the only answer that would actually work – on how to deploy corporate Windows apps out to a distributed workforce. Other technologies emerged (VMware View) or got better (Microsoft RDS). Mostly they operate on similar principles with different implementation details.

Often, these environments would be pristine when put in, functioning perfectly. Or as close to perfect as was possible. Over time, they would decay. Persistent issues would occur, applications would not function correctly at times or users would experience slowness.

As a younger engineer, I would put this down to lack of maintenance. And partially, I was right. I was certified to the highest level in Citrix, and had VMware and Microsoft accreditations. After these environments were built, the teams responsible for managing them were often under-resourced and under-trained, resulting in environment decay.

Desktops should be simple

Now, with the benefit of more experience, my world view on this has changed. A technology that is sufficiently complex that it requires expert-level skills to function properly day-to-day is fundamentally flawed. Delivering a fundamental computing technology like hosted desktops should be reliable. Maintenance should be as simple as possible.

It’s not that desktops are intrinsically complicated. It’s the complexity of the machinery that’s required to deliver a Citrix, VMware or Microsoft hosted desktop. When you’re building redundant network-boot servers, high-IOPS all-SSD SANs and complex orchestration systems to provide a platform for users to run Microsoft Word and a couple of corporate applications, there’s got to be a better way.

Everybody wants the same thing

The reality is that when it comes to corporate desktop computing environments, everybody wants the same thing:

  • Performance, so users can work quickly and be productive
  • Simplicity of management, to keep data secure and provide service to users when they need it
  • Standardisation for the masses
  • Customisation where it makes sense

These requirements are common to all organisations. It’s an ideal problem to solve with a cloud product, which is why AWS Workspaces makes so much sense.

Straight to the action

The beauty with Workspaces is that you bypass the complex infrastructure machinery. You don’t need an engineer to build a network boot environment, design storage IO for performance, build a desktop hosting server cluster or configure one of the most complicated load balancers on the planet to provide hosted desktops. It’s almost jarring for a Citrix engineer to deploy Workspaces for the first time – the speed with which you can go from enabling Workspaces through to logging in to a desktop is night and day. You get straight to solving the business challenge.

That’s not to say that all of AWS Workspaces is simple. There is still complexity where it’s needed – with customisation, environment integration, and enterprise app stores. They’re the real customisation challenges. The areas that each organisation is going to want to customise their experience. And as with everything AWS, Workspaces provides extensive APIs for automation.

Right now, AWS Workspaces doesn’t have as many configuration settings as a solution like Citrix has. Is this a pro or a con? Overall, I believe it’s a pro. A lot of the advanced customisation that’s possible in the previous generation of desktop platforms is no longer needed. Each setting has a cost. The opportunity cost of complexity and loads of features is reliability – and above all, desktop platforms should be reliable so users can work.

But what about cost?

The cost of Workspaces vs an alternative solution depends on the use case. Any vendor can stack TCO analyses to have their technology look preferable.

Cost of a technology is only a relevant factor, not the prime driver. History is full of inferior technologies that were replaced by better ones that also cost more – see mobile phone vs land line, fibre vs dial up, car vs horse and cart. More important than cost when selecting a technology is how well it does what it’s meant to do. AWS Workspaces aces that.

Although, don’t get me started on if hosted Windows desktops are the future of computing – they’re still a tactical solution – but one that will be with us for a while.

What do you think? Let us know.