New Amazon WorkSpaces service could poach Microsoft OneDrive customers

Credit: Joshua Bermudez

Today Amazon is opening up its desktop-as-a-service offering which it unveiled in November in an invite-only beta. There are some limitations to Amazon WorkSpaces that will make it likely most appealing to small or medium businesses, but coming from a giant like Amazon the service will make waves in the virtualization market.

Amazon WorkSpaces is a virtualization service that lets end users run virtual versions of Windows 7*, Office, and other apps on a variety of devices including PCs, Macs, iPads, Kindle Fires, and some Android tablets (including tablets from Samsung, Motorola, and the Nexus tablets). The service is hosted by Amazon so businesses don’t have to manage it themselves.

As part of the announcement today, Amazon said it is introducing a new sync service for WorkSpaces users. It's a clever way for Amazon to try to win storage customers away from Microsoft's OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive).

WorkSpaces Sync automatically backs up documents that users create or edit from within WorkSpace. Users can install the sync client on all their machines in order to access the documents, even outside of WorkSpace.

WorkSpaces supports only Office 2010. That could make WorkSpaces very sticky -- once Office 2010 users start storing documents in the WorkSpaces sync service, they may be inclined to stick with Amazon rather than going through the headache of moving those documents to another storage service. 

In addition to adding the sync service, Amazon made one other minor change to the offering. During the preview, admins could only provision the service for five users at a time. Now, admins can provision 20 at a time, which is only marginally better. In a Q and A, Amazon said that admins could contact the company to raise that limit. But defaulting to such a low number seems to indicate that Amazon isn't catering to very large businesses.

The concept of desktop-as-a-service isn't new but it's getting renewed interest as bigger names start offering the service. While Citrix is a leader in desktop virtualization, it doesn't directly offer desktop-as-a-service to businesses. Instead it offers technology to third party system integrators that then offer the service to users.

VMware -- another big name in virtualization -- is now getting into offering desktop-as-a-service to businesses as well. A month ago it announced a partnership with Google to offer its virtualization service on Chromebooks, and the service launched earlier this month.

While Amazon isn't traditionally the name that businesses turn to for enterprise software or services, it is increasingly on the radar of IT staff due to the dominance of Amazon Web Services in the cloud market. That gives Amazon the potential to attract users of a business-oriented service like WorkSpaces, which offers a cloud-based twist on a traditional enterprise product. 

The cost to use Amazon WorkSpaces ranges from $35 per WorkSpace per month to $75. The more expensive plans include more apps, storage, and memory. 

*Technically, it's the Windows 7 desktop experience provided by Windows Server 2008 R2 with remote desktop services. But to users, it looks and acts like Windows 7.

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