Amazon launches virtual desktops

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Amazon launches virtual desktops

Takes challenge to Citrix, VMware.

Amazon Web Services will offer a hosted virtual desktop service from its global network of data centres, throwing down yet more challenges to virtualisation vendors Citrix and VMware.

The hosted desktop solution will allow IT administrators to push the desktop experience onto staff-owned devices and pay on a per-staff, per-month basis.

Dubbed Amazon WorkSpaces and available in a limited beta from today, the service offers a choice of two virtual compute instances pre-loaded with the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system (re-skinned to appear like Windows 7), the Firefox web browser and Adobe Reader.

The standard instance offers one virtual CPU and 50GB of storage for US$35 per month, while a performance instance offers two virtual CPUs and 100GB of storage for US$60 per month.

For an extra US$15 per seat, per month, a desktop will come bundled with Microsoft Office 2010 and Trend Micro's antivirus product.

The hosted desktop is compatible with PC, Mac OS X, Android and iOS.

Amazon claimed WorkSpaces will offer a level of integration with Microsoft Active Directory and would be delivered to remote desktops via the PC-over-IP protocol, which is also licensed by the likes of VMware and HP.

The company could not detail when it will offer the service from Amazon's two availability zones in Sydney.

Andy Jassy, senior vice president of Amazon Web Services, told the Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas today the service will offer persistent sessions, such that a user might be working on applications on one device, and have them open when they log in from a new device.

Jassy said the VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) solutions released to date have not sold well because of the additional investment required in the data centre.

He said while "centrally managed desktops" was a good idea from a security and administration perspective, "VDI has never taken off in the way people anticipated it would". 

"It turned out to be difficult to set-up and manage," he said. "You still had to pay for and worry about the infrastructure."

Ed Lenta, managing director at Amazon Web Services in Australia, said he was confident Amazon's Sydney-based data centres would deliver an adequate desktop user experience to customers across Australia over the public internet.

"Customers are enjoying very low latency connections," he said. "What this will offer is the ability to start experimenting with virtual desktops - you won't have to invest in the SAN and network to get started.

"You can try it out for use cases and see if it delivers across a number of factors - including performance."

Brett Winterford travelled to the Re:Invent conference as a guest of Amazon Web Services.

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