Amazon Workspaces: What lies ahead and beneath?


On the surface, Amazon’s newly introduced Amazon WorkSpaces is Desktop as a Service. But it may represent a strategy that is actually much deeper than that, and one that could bring whole new customer segments into the Amazon Web Services Marketplace.

Today, in order for enterprise applications to move to the cloud, they have to achieve an “escape velocity” to break free from the company’s data center. Firms often use scorecards to rationalize which applications will escape to the public cloud and which remain in house. Even in firms where the CIO mandates “cloud first” deployment, entrenched corporate culture and fear of cloud often preserves the status quo and hinders a move to the cloud. That is not good news for AWS.

DaaS as gateway to cloud

On the other hand, selling companies desktops in the cloud is nothing but good news for AWS. Each desktop requires CPU, memory, storage, network, GPU – and AWS offers all those resources. The arrival of these new desktops in AWS creates demand for services located in close proximity. Just as workers moving to a new city demand local services, the arrival of desktops in AWS creates demand for reporting, data warehouse, and content management services —  all running in AWS.

To date, small and medium businesses that don’t have Netflix(s nflx)-like IT skills or a very specific need for AWS have gotten along just fine without cloud and could continue to do so for quite some time. To move those shops over the hurdle, desktop as a service is a brilliant tactic.

Today, a firm subscribing to five hundred desktops would spend in excess of $17,000 per month on DaaS with AWS. And once in the cloud, such firms might as well do their disaster recovery (DR) there. And if they need to recover their applications to AWS, they may wonder why they should wait for a disaster and decide to run critical applications in a cloud that’s become familiar to them.

Identifying Amazon WorkSpaces as “Desktop as a Service” may be a misrecognition that transposes the platform and the service. The act of branding WorkSpaces as Amazon rather than as Amazon Web Services suggests that WorkSpaces seeks recognition from a less cloudy set of users. And, if the Amazon WorkSpaces brand appeals to a broader set of users, why limit the brand to Desktop as a Service alone? To persuade otherwise busy people to move their desktops to the cloud it makes sense to offer more than just a desktop as reward for that move.

Predictions for WorkSpaces and AWS Marketplace

Here are some possible scenarios that could emerge out of Amazon’s WorkSpace gambit.

  • 1. WorkSpaces reveals itself as a reinvention of the Virtual Private Cloud network abstraction. I anticipate enterprise applications subscribed seamlessly into WorkSpaces. I suspect AWS has been working to enable secure AWS Marketplace application endpoints visible to specific desktops within a WorkSpace.
  • 2. Today an application in the MarketPlace is restricted to a single Amazon Machine Image or AMI. Yet each native AWS web services is designed to be elastic and available. In a WorkSpace, third-party services will be exposed as an endpoint in AWS in order to create the end user experience required for ubiquitous adoption of SaaS as unit of composition and delivery within AWS.
  • 3. WorkSpaces will incorporate metrics to enable enterprise, developers, and ISVs to understand the overall resource efficiency of applications. To create a thriving, growing ecosystem, AWS needs to drive efficiency of ISVs in the MarketPlace so as to create a market for single function, highly efficient web services to be consumed by developers, and to drive efficiency of coarse-grained applications consumed by end users.

Desktop as a Service seems easy for Main Street users to understand and to like; something Main Street will value. But will we see pushback? Will we discover a subculture of desktop huggers— people who will resist relinquishing their applications to the cloud? And will they get together with the server huggers and form a support group?

joaguin1WorkSpaces eliminates the technical challenge of building out a bespoke virtual desktop infrastructure. Moving VDI to AWS may almost be enough to make VDI mainstream (finally!). If WorkSpaces can also provide a simple way for mainstream businesses to securely subscribe to and manage AWS Marketplace applications, even better.

Amazon WorkSpaces may become the construct through which ISVs can provision and manage subscriptions to their applications in AWS, and through which businesses subscribe to those services. Since inception, AWS has worked hard to build out a set of foundation services developers use to build applications.

Now, Amazon WorkSpaces could be the vehicle to bring the customers (their virtual desktops and devices) who will buy applications built on those services. Designed effectively, this marketplace maintains incentives for ISVs to build and optimize efficient web services. Moving the mountain of desktops to AWS creates the demand to drive an explosion of new applications and services in AWS.

A market where customers can subscribe to and manage applications or components, and manage the desktop (or virtual device) seems familiar—a little bit like shopping online on

While some firms outside of Silicon Valley may not yet appreciate the need for elastic infrastructure, most will get the value of being able to scale costs as their business changes. Desktop as a Service may be the first of many services delivered via the WorkSpaces metaphor. Amazon WorkSpaces suggests more than a single service. Amazon WorkSpaces suggests a platform branded for a mainstream customer and which ISVs and developers will use to manage and provision application services to a new kind of AWS customer.

Brian McCallion is founder Bronze Drum Consulting, a New York City-based consultancy and a member of the Amazon Partner Network. He can be reached at or followed on Twitter: @BrianMcCallion

Art courtesy of Joaquin Torres Garcia


Kokoro Dudu

I may sound dumb, but how is this going to work? Workers would still need real devices to make this work, isn’t it?


It’s a good question. People still need some kind of device in order to access their virtual desktop running in AWS. While I didn’t focus on these aspects of the service, Amazon worked very hard to deliver value to the end user, not the least of which is flexibility of client device. For example, you can use an existing desktop (PC or Mac), a purpose built device, or an Android or iOS tablet to access your virtual desktop. Much in the way worked to deliver value in the online shopping experience distinct from the brick and mortar shopping experience –such as online user reviews, recommendations, remembering what you purchased before, WorkSpaces maintains state even as a user accesses the virtual desktop from say a desktop in the morning, a tablet on the train, and a laptop at the office. I see these choices in how to access a virtual desktop, combined with a Cloud Platform that also may evolve into a service that can manage mobile, desktop, and other devices as further examples of what may lie “beneath and beyond” as desktops migrate to AWS.

Keith Townsend

I don’t believe Amazon introduced the service as a way to up sell to other AWS solutions but rather as a way to entice enterprises to use AWS solutions in general. It’s not a “stand alone” solution aimed at non-current customers. One of the primary use cases for VDI solutions including Workspace is to put the users closer to the data. Workspaces solves a specific challenge of how do you deal with latency issues associated with having your data center in the Cloud.

Is Amazon Desktop as a Service Ready for Prime Time.


I think AWS perceives multiple ways in which Amazon WorkSpaces changes the market. And yes, Workspaces creates demand for other Amazon services, not the least of which are storage and CPU.

And yet providing a service attractive to a mid market customer enables AWS to substantially accelerate not only how quickly it can scale geographically into emerging markets, but also how rapidly it can accelerate scsle in existing markets. A five hundred person mid market running Amazon Workspaces bring a significant amount of revenue. Further, selling into the fragmented mid market space, reduces the bargaining power of hardware vendors. In terms of portfolio risk, the SMB market, due to its fragmention is a great source of growth, and a very large new market. Think about China, as well as the credit crunch affecting emerging markets. Workspaces is a service US SMBs will buy, but it is also a service that will enable AWS to diversify its revenue and workload geographically. These are all ex-ante benefits. What I expect will happen is that the SMB desktops in AWS will be able to to subscribe to other services in AWS. This demand will create a demand for new service that will be built on AWS foundation services. Further, I believe that AWS will work to enable seamless discovery and subscription to services and will do so in ways that enhances security and simplifies services provisioning and management.

Keith Townsend

I think your vision is a long time out. Even SMB environments need the full features of enterprise class VDI. DaaS in it’s current form isn’t compelling for larger installations (More than a few dozen desktops).

Even looking at those use cases I don’t see a great appeal to outsource my destkops and maintain VPC’s to connect back to the data, AD and enterprise applications.

I think it’s a critical service for their long term strategy but I don’t see it compelling for a SMB yet. I don’t see the financial advantages so greatly outweighing the technical and operational deficiencies of the solution at this point.


Hi Keith,
Thank you for this. Can you be more specific in terms of the capabilities you think firms seek? Why do you think AWS brought this service to market at this point in time? How do you think it fits into AWS’s strategy? Thanks!


Keith Townsend

From an high level
– Workloads based on geography
– Pooled images
– Provisioning tools integrated with AD (Citrix is the master of this)
– Offline sync (XenClient, VMware View Client)
– Catalog management (image version control)

These are just a few features. It’s going to take some time for AWS to catch up but I believe it’s the right move long term.


One of the CIOs I’ve worked with noted how hard he works to consolidate servers in his data center, and how VDI effectively moves CPU, power, from the office building real estate into his data center. If there’s one thing we’ve seen from AWS, it’s an uncanny ability to introduce a “primitive” service, and to rapidly iterate based on customer feedback.

As much as we heard about the competitive advantage of AWS’s infrastructure and operational capabilities, the cards left covered are the web services and software ecosystem. Amazon WorkSpaces and AWS MarketPlace alters the terrain to a steeper climb in which IaaS at AWS scale is table stakes and where the economic demand of end users (firms buying software) requires ISVs to run their applications at scale in AWS. In this scenario, we have a platform, as ISVs will prefer the platform that offers the best services from which to build applications, and also the platform where the ISV can sell application services to the largest number of users.

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