Business Cloud News
Andy Jassy, senior vice president of AWS speaking at its Re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas Wednesday

Andy Jassy, senior vice president of AWS speaking at its Re:Invent Conference in Las Vegas Wednesday

Amazon Web Services released a number of updates to its core public cloud platform at its Las Vegas Re:Invent conference Wednesday, including a new app streaming service tuned for high I/O apps and high-definition content, and an application monitoring service.

But the big news was Amazon’s entrance into the desktop as a service space with WorkSpaces, a move that could irk established providers like Citrix, VMware and Oracle.

AWS took the wraps off three new services on Wednesday in a move to reassure users and vendors that the company is staying ahead of the curve of competitors, some of which are members of Amazon’s vast ecosystem of partners.

The first of these is AppStream, a service specifically built for developers that need to build high-fidelity, graphically rich applications to run on premium and lower-spec hardware alike. Senior vice president of Amazon Web Services Andy Jassy said the purpose of the new service is to enable lower end mobile devices to take advantage of AWS’s raw compute and storage power needed to run more complex apps, and the AppStream service will run on the company’s newly announced G2 instances (which means its only available in the US – for now). The service uses H.264/AVC for HD video up to 720p running at 30fps, and Opus, an open source audio format, for 16-bit/48kHz audio; all the heavy lifting (rendering) will be done in the cloud, with the results pushed out to various devices (which will require connectivity of at least 3Mbps). Amazon will also be offering an SDK to help get developers up and running on the service quickly.

AWS also revealed a back-end security service behind AppStream, called Entitlement Service. It verifies user credentials, determines if users are authorised and sets up a private session for access to that application. AppStream will generate a single-use “Entitlement URL” that is sent back to the client and used to fetch the Session ID and IP address of the EC2 instance that will service the session, mirroring an application security approach at the heart of a newly announced CSA initiative.

Amazon's Entitlement Service

CloudTrail, a service that records all API calls (initiated from anywhere) and stores the log files in Amazon’s S3 and Glacier, was also announced. It’s meant to give developers more visibility into the security of their applications and more insight into how they are used. It can also be linked up to third-party tracking and analytical tools like AlertLogic, Loggly, and Splunk to help developers identify anomalies, troubleshoot API call failures and the like.

But the most interesting announcement from Amazon is WorkSpaces, the company’s own deskptop as a service offering that will directly compete with similar services from established virtualisation heavyweights like Citrix and VMware.

The service will cost between $35 and $75 per user per month. At the low end users can expect one virtual CPU, 3.75GB of memory, and 50GB of persistent user storage, with the top-end orchestration packing two virtual CPUs, 7.5GB of memory and 100GB of persistent storage. Windows 7 instances will can be provisioned five at a time from the WorkSpaces console.

VDI Amazon

Amazon’s VDI pricing. Note the absence of additional costs attributed to requiring more networking resources to run thin-clients, which tend to have a noticeable impact on the TCO

Jassy said that unlike traditional on-premise VDI and thin-client setups, WorkSpaces will have no up-front fees and cost less than half as much in total cost of ownership terms. He also said desktop as a service removes much of the complexity that has previously inhibited large organisations from using such a platform, particularly because enterprises won’t have to allocate engineers and administrators to configure and manage the underlying architecture.

Jassy spent a good portion of his keynote presentation at Re:Invent touting the “vibrant ecosystem” of partners AWS has managed to attract and leverage strategically for. But he also boasted the rate at which the company has been building new services (235 in 2013 alone), and many of these are starting to creep into established markets.

The company operates its own database and data warehouse services but also hosts many on offer from third party providers. Similarly, Citrix offers desktop virtualisation (XenDesktop) services on the AWS platform. The public cloud-based VDI is not groundbreaking in itself. But Amazon’s public cloud is usually associated with powering databases, web apps and datacentre-focused IT elements, and this is Amazon’s first big move into the front-end of IT – one many of its competitors / partners will be watching closely.

The service is in limited preview at the moment, but will likely go live in Q1 2014.