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Work from Home with AWS Work Spaces

In this webinar Phil Clowater of the CDW Canada enterprise team leads a short and concise overview of Cloud VDI implementation with AWS Workspaces.

CDW offers a suite of Digital Workspace Solutions, addressing the full scope of communications, apps and devices, and a specialism in AWS hybrid cloud-enabled deployments.

Cloud VDI – Desktop as a Service

Before commencing the webinar review, a quick introduction to Cloud VDI is helpful. As SearchVirtualDesktop explains:

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a desktop virtualization technology wherein a desktop operating system (OS) — typically Microsoft Windows — runs and is managed in an on-premises or cloud data center. The virtual desktop image is delivered over a network to an endpoint device, which allows the user to interact with the operating system and its apps as if it were running locally. The endpoint may be a traditional PC, thin client device or a mobile device.

AWS Workspaces is the Amazon offering for VDI. You can use Amazon WorkSpaces to provision either Windows or Linux desktops in just a few minutes and quickly scale to provide thousands of desktops to workers across the globe. You can pay either monthly or hourly, just for the WorkSpaces you launch.

CDW – AWS Workspaces Production Accelerator

Traditional challenges

Following a company introduction the details of the solution begins at 2m:50s, starting with an overview of the challenges with traditional approaches to virtual desktops:

  • Difficult to implement
  • Hardware procurement challenges
  • Management and maintenance of data center facilities
  • Fixed data center capacity and length provisioning timings
  • Insufficient use of resources (e.g., one user per VM)
  • Unused capacity after hours
  • For a widely dispersed workforce, potential latency issues between the end-user and DC

Cloud option

It then moves on to explaining the detail of the Cloud VDI option, highlighting first that the cloud option consists of:

  • Provision virtually in minutes
  • Scale as required
  • Simplify desktop delivery
  • Reduce cost
  • Eliminating overbuying desktop/laptops
  • Stop services when not required.
  • Secured data

Why AWS workspaces?

The benefits of using the AWS workspaces solution include simplified desktop delivery. There’s no need for complex VDI deployments and much of the administrative work load is eliminated.

AWS workspaces help in keeping the data secure by deploying within an Amazon VPC and through persistent storage. There are encrypted storage volumes in AWS and AWS integrates vital management services to keep all the data safe and sound.

AWS workspaces are also vital because it reduces the cost and eliminates the need to overbuy desktop/laptop, and it has access to cloud desktops that can be provided to users on demand. AWS workspaces are only online and running when users are logged into them, so after logging out they go into standby mode and they are only paying for the disk usage, a ‘smart shutdown’ feature.

As an AWS service Workspaces are available on a global basis, available across 13 AWS regions, and can be provisioned and de-provisioned via a single console.

CDW for AWS workspaces

CDW has a partnership actually with AWS, known as a consulting partnership, and is only one of their three principal partners in Canada, meaning they enjoy extra support from AWS. CDW also has a bench of certified consultants, which helps in the adaption of new cloud technologies and has also created a pre-canned production accelerator.

The pretty slim prerequisites one should consider for workspaces are:

  • Setting up an AWS account through credit card or CDW also valets money for need.
  • Microsoft AD or Single Sign-On solution which allows SAML authentication.
  • Entitlement checks (licensing) if one wants to bring their windows into licensing.

From 8:20 the team describe the production accelerator. This is a three day pilot program for $11k, that caters for the CDW services but not the AWS consumption, and provides configuration for up to 10 users.

Phases of this program are listed below that are followed by CDW as quickly as possible:

  • Review: It includes a discussion of any existing VDI environments, gathering prerequisites for the application and image requirements, and ensures deployment readiness.
  • Configure: Configuration of workspace components on AWS and one host pool with up to 10 instances is done in this phase. This helps the team to focus on getting ready for the testing after the CDW setting team-up.
  • Transfer: Pilot is ready for testing in this phase because the project is complete. CSW will provide knowledge transfer and a runbook to destroy the environment once the examination is complete, and the customer can easily choose to keep the environment and transition to production.

Question/answers session

At 11:00 the webinar concludes with a Q&A session.

1) The first question asks if usage is smooth and is it an easy transition.

Answering this the team explains the latency for the service is very low and so yes, it is a smooth service. For the transition it depends on your existing estate. If you do not have any existing VDI the solution can be built from scratch and easily adopted. If you do have existing VDIs it is more complex as existing VDI images can’t be migrated into the service.

2) The leads on to the second question – Can you load your own corporate image into workspaces?

The answer is you can’t build an image locally and then load it into Workspaces, instead you use the Workspaces Application Manager to build your image and then manage that as a corporate image.

3) The next question from a customer is that how do you manage social productivity work through this work from home program?

The team answers by explaining there are various tools for monitoring the usage of Workspaces, both in terms of those specific to Workspaces which can monitor their use of the Workspace itself. Additionally you can install application-centric monitoring tools into the image.

4) The next question is, why would we choose AWS over Microsoft windows

The answer depends on whether you are already in the Microsoft ecosystem or not. If not and you need quick set up AWS is a better option.

5) The final question is on the costings – How much per user and nodes to scale up as needed?

This depends on the class of nodes that you select, as low as $20 /user per month for 1 CPU / 2Gb memory, through $41 for 2 CPUs / 8Gb memory, or 8 CPUs / 32Gb memory for particularly intensive desktop requirements like graphics, for $123 / month.

Case Study: Facebook

A keynote example of a large enterprise adopting Workspaces to enable distributed remote working is Facebook. Recently they announced they will be extending their work from home policy to the end of the year to cope with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

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