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From Sun Ray, to Fire: With its WorkSpaces Thin Client, can AWS make DaaS hot again?

From Sun Ray, to Fire: With its WorkSpaces Thin Client, can AWS make DaaS hot again?

Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client
Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client: The little black box in the middle...

What is old is new again: Amazon has repurposed its consumer Fire TV Cube (a small device for supporting media streaming) for virtual desktop capabilities and is releasing it as a Thin Client for enterprise customers.

It’s a minor release in the grand flurry of news landing from AWS’s annual re:Invent conference, and sexier updates centred around AI will be landing at a blistering clip this week, but it is nonetheless an interesting punt by the cloud provider – which is entering territory first meaningfully charted by Sun Microsystems in the late 1990s with its Sun Ray thin client.

The Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client ships with what it describes as an OS, firmware and programmes developed for virtual desktop use cases. AWS claimed in a launch blog that it “provides a low-cost device that is shipped directly to employees and makes it easy to access a personalized virtual desktop and apps with a few clicks… streamlining IT management.”

It costs $195 upfront, or $279 with a “hub” to connect two monitors, then a $6 monthly service fee, per device. AWS gives the example of 50 thin clients, with a $45/monthly WorkSpaces service Windows Performance Bundle per virtual desktop, coming in at a total of $2,250/month.

(For lovers of Linux desktops, the Thin Client only supports Microsoft Windows and not Ubuntu or Linux 2 on Workspaces, an FAQ shows.)

The costs can add up fast and early commentary included some grumbling in a few quarters around “why not just use Chromebooks; it’s cheaper?”

Alberto Ruiz, a senior engineering manager at Red Hat, told The Stack: “When you have a performant enough remote desktop protocol like Sun had or AWS has (check out AWS NICE DCV) then there are several use cases where workstation oriented professional apps become a target for this setup.”

(NICE DCV lets users run graphics-intensive apps remotely on EC2 instances, and stream their user interface to simpler client boxes like the Thin Client. Users only pay only for the EC2 resources, not the protocol.)

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They added: “At my company we work with animation studios, and IT having to manage actual workstations with complicated software setups is a nightmare. They spend a fortune on hardware in those use cases, and I do believe having shared resources on a datacenter (cloud or not) is a lot more efficient not just in overall hardware cost but also IT maintenance.

“Moving from a version of RHEL to the next is a multi-year project for many animation studios, to give you one example. If most of your apps are on the web, maybe a Chromebook is better, but many enterprise IT shops can't/won't use Google applications, so there is a gap between an actual PC with Windows and ChromeOS” – a gap Amazon hopes to fill. 

It just *might* make sense, particularly for organisations that are already AWS shops. (Companies like Dell and HP also ship thin clients; albeit at a higher price point. These are often, if not exclusively, used with Azure’s Virtual Desktop; IGEL OS and 10 Zig are among those also operating here.) 

The Amazon Thin Client Console is currently available in the US East, US West, Asia Pacific (Mumbai), Canada (Central), and Europe (Frankfurt, Ireland, Ireland, London) AWS regions, but the hardware itself is only available in the US for now, with broader availability coming “early 2024.”

AWS's Jeff Barr has a deployment walk-through here.

What are your views on virtual desktops and thin clients? Whether you are a user/admin/[un]successfully tried some flavour of DaaS, let us know about your experiences – and thoughts on the Amazon Thin Client.