Amazon Web Services' hosted virtual desktops have become generally available, priced from $35, but the company and its competitors have a lot of hurdles to overcome before this sort of technology is widely used by businesses.
The desktop-as-a-service market has become interesting. Before Amazon's Wednesday announcement on its WorkSpaces service, VMware earlier this month launched its Horizon DaaS, based on the company's acquisition of Desktone.
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The pitch for DaaS is the same as for many other hosted services, and includes lower capital investments and management costs. The cost of WorkSpaces is "highly competitive with traditional desktops and half the cost of most virtual desktop infrastructure" platforms, according to Amazon.
DaaS, or hosted desktops, comprise OSes and applications executed in the vendor's data center and then sent across the Internet to be displayed to the user. But such virtual desktops have struggled to gain mass market acceptance, and success won't come easy for these new services in the short term.
"It's very early days from a maturity perspective. I think there is a strong interest from organizations that want to move away from deploying the infrastructure themselves and making the up front capital investment ... But there are a number hurdles vendors have to overcome," said Nathan Hill, research director at Gartner.
Software integration is a major hurdle. Vendors have to ensure good performance of applications that require access to middleware or databases that are physically segregated from where the desktops are hosted.
"I am not saying that it won't work. But you have to test and validate all those applications. Emulating exactly what you have today with a large application portfolio could become a significant undertaking. The key is how you decide which users can survive on a hosted desktop, and I think that might be a small proportion for some organizations," Hill said.
There are also concerns about security, availability and how to manage the whole lifecycle of a desktop, according to Hill.
But vendors have to start somewhere. WorkSpaces is initially available from data centers North Virginia and Oregon with more locations coming soon, according to Amazon. Enterprises outside of the U.S. are welcome to evaluate the service, but if end users are located more than 2,000 miles from the two data centers the "experience may be less responsive," Amazon said.
The desktop it offers is based on Windows Server 2008 R2 with RDS (Remote Desktop Services), which gives users an environment that looks like Windows 7. Amazon is using Windows Server because Microsoft's licensing terms for the server OS are more straightforward than for cloud-based versions of its desktop OSes, according to Hill.
"Whether you regard [using a server OS] as a compromise or not, it is certainly going to have challenges in terms of ISV support for applications," Hill said. Running desktop apps on a server OS is more complicated than running them on a desktop OS, he noted.