Desktop and Application Streaming

Amazon WorkSpaces: Connecting your client device to your cloud desktop

One of the most surprising things we discovered when we launched Amazon WorkSpaces was that the most popular client for users to connect to their Windows WorkSpaces was…Windows. Back in 2013 when we launched Amazon WorkSpaces we were being guided by AWS customers that they wanted Windows desktops so they could connect to them from mobile devices, Macs, Chromebooks, browsers, or thin clients. That made sense because while users often loved their non-PC devices, those devices didn’t always have the Windows applications that are still so prevalent in businesses today. At first glance, it didn’t seem to make sense that business would pay to use and maintain Windows on a desktop or laptop they issued to their users and then pay to use and maintain Windows again on a WorkSpace. But after five years and with hundreds of thousands of WorkSpaces running, most of them connect from Windows. We trust our customers know what they are doing, so the question is why? I think there are a few different answers, and our customers largely fall into one of these groups.

For one group the answer is that in reality there is some division of ownership and responsibility for the Windows clients and the Amazon WorkSpaces. A good example is when a customer is issuing WorkSpaces to consultants or other outside workers. In those cases the consultants or consulting firms often own their own desktops and have their own IT organizations that maintain them. In the past our customers would still have issued these organizations desktops to give them building or network access to do their work, but with WorkSpaces they just issue them a WorkSpace and let them connect from their existing devices. The cost to build and maintain a WorkSpace is lower than the desktop they are replacing, particularly if they avoid the capital expenditure and long held asset cost of a physical device. And the consultants actually prefer not to have to deal with two devices.

For the second group the answer is that they are using WorkSpaces to extend the lifecycle of existing desktops they own and are not taking on any new capital expenditures to issue clients for connections to Amazon WorkSpaces. We hear often from customers that they are avoiding one or two major hardware refresh cycles on their client devices by using WorkSpaces. When you’re placing hardware orders for tens of thousands of machines there can be some serious business incentive to stave off that kind of capital outlay. These customers often view the incremental cost of managing additional Windows desktops to be low, since they typically have to do it anyway either for other on-premises desktops or for WorkSpaces. We have also seen customers use that sort of shift as the first step of a broader Bring Your Own Device strategy. Once they start down the road to BYOD they can go through a pretty long phase of just continuing to use their existing desktops to connect to WorkSpaces until they all get absolutely ancient.

For the third group they just don’t have time to do anything other than use their existing Windows clients. A good example of this situation might be a customer onboarding a major acquisition. By issuing their new employees WorkSpaces they allow them to onboard to the corporate network and start being productive with the existing desktops they had before the acquisition, even if those desktops haven’t been reimaged or taken under management. Compared to almost anything else they can do to solve this type of emergent need, spinning up a bunch of WorkSpaces is far simpler and faster. Do these expedient WorkSpaces sometimes get de-commissioned? Yes…but that’s why the cloud is so awesome.

In the long haul I do expect that the percentage of users connecting from Windows clients will decline. We have seen that as our customers’ use of WorkSpace matures they begin transitioning to lower cost client solutions like Chromebooks or BYOD strategies. Ultimately we think the only thing our customers will manage for their users are WorkSpaces, and the days of companies issuing devices to users will go away, just as it is rapidly doing for phones.

– Nathan Thomas – GM Amazon WorkSpaces