Amazon Workspaces: Useful for CloudBI/Cloud Development?

Tim Gray
October 2, 2018

Amazon Workspaces have been around for a while now, so I thought I’d give them a go and see what’s what.

What is this Amazon Workspaces thing then?

Amazon Workspaces is Amazon/AWS virtual desktop as a service offering. It allows IT Administrators to provision desktops that users can connect to from anywhere in the world from almost any device.
The idea is to create a standard machine image that is used by all the users that need virtual desktops. This image includes applications that are used by your users on a day-to-day basis. Once this image is created users can be provisioned desktops that they use remotely as their main machine. When a user is logged into their desktop they can customise the environment, install apps, change settings, and upload files. These changes are then persisted in that users private desktop and isolated away from other users.
You have the choice of Windows 7, Windows 10, or Amazon Linux for your desktop environment, 4 choices of hardware specifications (Value to Power), and even the choice of attaching GPU’s for video or AI workloads.  The service is integrated Active Directory to provision users and VPC to allow network access all the way out to the internet.

What is it useful for then?

Amazon Workspaces has a wide range of applicable use cases, all the way from lightweight browser based office administration usage to full-on developer usage. One example is using the Amazon Workspaces desktop to connect to a Qlik Sense server locked inside a VPC, because the Amazon Workspaces machines have a security group and are machines inside the VPC they can have specific rules allowing access to those instances, and traffic does not need to flow over the internet. This can simplify security models for some organisations. Another useful developer based workflow is to use a Amazon Workspace machine for development and have other cloud services available through the connected VPC (a database in RDS for example). Some non-developer examples could be workflows such as allowing users to connect to Windows based application stack from their Android or iOS based tablets. This can mean a lightweight on-the-go option for those users in travelling situations. We have also had fun in the office writing C# and JavaScript code on the bus thanks to Amazon Workspaces.

What do I need to use Amazon Workspaces?

To get Amazon Workspaces up and running you need.

And that’s it.
For your users, all they need is a internet connection and a device and they can happily connect to their Workspace and get going.
The list of supported devices includes just about everything including; Windows, macOs, iOS, Android, Chrome Os, and Fire Tablets. If none of these work, or you don’t want to (or can’t) install the client then there is a Web Portal you can use too.
For offices looking for a bit more of a full blown virtual desktop experience you can purchase a bunch of Thin-Clients or Zero-Clients and connect those to the Amazon Workspace instances, which is a great way of keeping hardware costs down.

But isn’t using a remote computer a bit slow and annoying?

You would think with the computer you are using being based in another time zone that the user experience would be poor, or you would not be able to use the same app and workflow that you have become used to, but this is not the case. From my experience the Amazon Workspace is quite usable and I have happily spent the last week or so doing normal works things from the virtual desktop. Visual Studio performed normally, typing is natural, keyboard shortcuts all work as expected, and disk access and other normal things work fine. Even some things you wouldn’t expect to work function correctly; Skype calls work perfectly fine, Spotify music is clear and high quality and I was even able to watch YouTube videos with little to no issues.
There are a few issues if you are using a low quality internet connection, it will still work but you will find things to be annoying when the connection is having a bad moment. There’s also a few issues currently in the macOS client (for the latest version of macOS) but I expect this to be resolved in a short while. The Android client also works well (even on mobile 4G) but you will most likely want a mouse/keyboard if you plan to use an android device for a long period of time. If you want to know a little more about the usability of Amazon Workspaces check out this blog by Amazon’s Jeff Barr that goes into a little more about using it for your full time machine.
Well that’s a quick rundown of Amazon Workspaces and if its useful for you. I will certainly be using them going forward, and if there is any updates Ill be sure to blog it.
Until then
Tim Gray
Coffee to Code

Victoria spends much of her time focusing on Digital Inclusion, Digital Literacy and Digital Rights.  

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