Alibaba Cloud quietly tests desktops-as-a-service

In seven flavours, accessible from Windows or macOS, with Active Directory support and USB passthrough


Alibaba Cloud has quietly started a private beta of Elastic Desktop Service – a desktop-as-a-service offering.

The Chinese cloud leader has dribbled out information about the service in recent weeks. The Register has learned that the service offers clients for Windows and MacOS, and that those clients permit USB redirection so that peripherals connected to the remote machine are accessible to the cloudy desktop.

Alibaba says “Data is stored in the cloud rather than on local clients, and is displayed only as pixels by using encrypted remote protocols.” Which is pretty standard for remote desktops.

Pre-paid options will be available, but the service will also be offered on-demand with bills “accurate to the second and generated by hour.”

Pricing has not been revealed, Alibaba has not mentioned the OS the virtual desktops will run, the CPUs powering the service, network speeds, or whether storage will be SSD or spinning rust.

We do know that the company will offer seven different flavours of virtual desktop as follows.

Type vCPU Memory (GiB) GPU System disk (GiB) Data disk (GiB)
Basic Office - A 1 2 None 80, 150 20, 70, 100, 150
Basic Office - B 2 4 None 80, 150 20, 70, 100, 150
Advanced Office - A 2 8 None 80, 150 20, 70, 100, 150
Advanced Office - B 4 16 None 80, 150 20, 70, 100, 150
Performance 8 32 None 80, 150 20, 70, 100, 150
Graphics 4 23 T4 × 0.25 150 150
Advanced Graphics 10 46 T4 × 0.5 150 150
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Integration with Active Directory will be offered, with Alibaba’s Resource Access Management (RAM) directory also an option.

The service appears to be spreading: documentation from late February said it was offered in four Chinese cities. The Register has since seen the service promoted as available in Alibaba’s Australian data centres.

Alibaba is far from first to offer virtual desktops. Amazon’s Workspaces (introduced into India this week) and Azure Virtual Desktops are already in-market and offer more client options and integration with Microsoft Office that Alibaba does not currently match. It’s also possible to consume VMware’s Horizon or Citrix’s Virtual Desktops in multiple clouds.

But the new offering does mean that Alibaba has again matched its cloudy rivals, so as it marches into markets beyond China buyers will have one more reason to put it on their shopping lists. ®

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