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AWS targets desktop virtualization rigs with lift and shift to cloudy DaaS

Citrix can do this too. Hyperconverged infrastructure's salad days serving virtual PCs might be ending

Amazon Web Services is moving to bring desktop virtualization (VDI) into the age of desktop-as-a-service.

VDI's share of all desktops has hovered below five percent for years because the tech is not trivial to deploy: hefty servers and a well-groomed network – and often a fast SAN – are required. Some overprovisioning of that rig is all but assumed, to cope with predictable peak loads that happen when most of a workforce fires up their PC at the start of the working day. VDI also needs a client, so ironically organizations that take their desktops virtual still need to maintain end points – some of them physical PCs!

Most VDI users are in regulated industries such as government or healthcare in which security concerns – or machines shared among many workers – make a virtual machine preferable. Little wonder that it's mainly been the domain of hyperconverged infrastructure vendors like Dell, Lenovo, Nutanix and HPE.

The COVID-19-induced work from home boom saw interest in VDI grow. With Microsoft counting 1.4 billion Windows 10 or 11 PCs alone, the global virtual desktop fleet probably tops 70 million machines and the number of users is likely even higher.

VMware and Citrix dominate the VDI software market and happily run in all major clouds – but require the same kind of server and SAN setup VDI needs on-prem.

AWS thinks some of its users now want simpler rigs. The cloud giant's answer is to meld VMware's Horizon VDI products with its own cloudy WorkSpaces desktop-as-a-service in an offering called "WorkSpaces Core".

The offering sees users retain their VMware Horizon product, but replace virtual desktops on a server with an Amazon WorkSpace desktop-as-a-service – a managed service in which AWS takes care of all the plumbing required to run and serve a virtual PC. Bye-bye back end!

Users can manage those WorkSpaces with the Horizon tools they used to manage their old virtual desktop fleets. AWS doesn't care where that Horizon instance runs. Users of WorkSpaces Core can employ the handful of desktop configurations AWS offers (the company is still tied to Windows Server skinned as desktops for arcane licensing reasons), or users can bring their own Windows licenses. Integration with Active Directory is also offered, so that policy applied to current virtual desktops is replicated when they're moved to WorkSpaces.

In conversation with The Register, AWS general manager for end user computing Muneer Mirza hinted strongly that Core's current tie-up with VMware won't be the only partnership with a major VDI player. That makes sense, because Citrix can already point its VDI products at Microsoft's Azure Virtual Desktops – AWS would not want to miss out on that action.

Mirza also hinted at imminent news of tech to make virtual desktops more resilient when networks fail.

The Register put it to Mirza that organizations whose VDI hardware is approaching end of life might see WorkSpaces Core as an easier on-ramp to cloudy virtual desktops than having to replicate their rigs off-prem. He agreed that's certainly a scenario AWS wishes to encourage.

If the cloud colossus succeeds, and Citrix wins customers for its offering, the combination of VDI and desktop-as-a-service would present a major challenge to hyperconverged infrastructure vendors. They've found VDI to be among their most popular applications – they might have another reason to curse the cloud. ®

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