Using Amazon WorkSpaces

Experience & thoughts

June 29, 2020

"Amazon WorkSpaces is a managed, secure Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution". Beginning April 1st AWS started offering this service at no charge (due to COVID-19) up to June 30 orginally, and then through September 30, 2020 later on. This gave me the chance to try out this service; from launching and setting up the virtual desktops, to actually using them. This small document contains my thoughts about my brief WorkSpaces experience.

Getting started

The first time in the WorkSpace service page using the AWS Console was pleasant. I was welcomed with a nice banner saying it only takes three steps to get going: selecting the bundle, setting up a password and downloading the client, and start using WorkSpaces. Very friendly and easy-looking.

WorkSpaces welcome

Then I was presented with two options for the setup step: quick or advanced. I'm obviously new to the service so I decided to go with the quick setup and be done "in less than 20 minutes". Spolier alert, it took me more than 20 minutes (it is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that happened).

WorkSpaces setup

Finally I got to select my bundle for the WorkSpace. There's not as much options as selecting an EC2 instance obviously (and I wasn't expecting to) but I was still surprised with the amount of bundles. I'm already on a system running Linux, so I decided to launch a desktop with Windows 10 just to change airs, and obviously because it was included in the free tier. The ability to add multiple users at once from the start was nice too. I set up the username, names, and email and I was ready to go.

WorkSpaces bundles

Settings

After selecting my bundle I was recieved with a screen with the instances I had launched. I felt that the dashboard was trying to be as user friendly as possible but I thought it was maybe too simple; I was not sure what to do next or what my otions for managing the new desktops were.

WorkSpaces instances

There was also this tab called "Directories" that threw me off at first. Upon investigation it appears that the WorkSpaces were organized into directories, which makes total sense but I was just not told about it from the start, and this is where the most important settings are. At first I thought "I wil not mess with these 'advanced' settings, I just want to log into my new Win10 desktop", but there was an issue preventing me from doing so.

WorkSpaces directories

Apparently accessing your virtual desktop with the WorkSpace Client from Linux is not enabled by default. I don't know why but whatever. I finally found the answer under "Access Control Options".

WorkSpaces Linux allow

In these same directory details, under "User Self Service Permissions", were options on what are your users allowed to do once inside their desktops. A lot of things that you probably wouldn't want your users to be able to do like changing the compute type, are enabled by default as well. Maybe I should have went with the advanced set up form the start.

Inside the WorkSpace

After recieving the email with the steps to download the WorkSpace Client, registering it, setting up my passwords and all that, I finally got to log into my Windows desktop.

It is everything you expect from Windows, nothing new here. The internet speeds inside the WorkSpace are really nice, and I was surprised and glad to see that Firefox came already installed.

WorkSpaces internet speed

And just like every other virtual desktop service it felt just a little bit laggy at times. Still, it was the smoothest I have used so far.

Conclusions

I think it is a cool and useful service, and a viable option for big companies that want to keep their workers more organized. I thought the pricing was fair and getting started is quite easy. For personal use it may not be the best fit but it was nice to mess up and expriment around with; the more advanced options were kinda complex and intimidating at first, but after being around the service for a while it all started to fall into place. Also, I'm not sure how well the maintenance of the virtual desktops would scale to hundred of instances for example, but for a small fleet I think it should be fine.

I'm glad Amazon gave us the opportunity to try out this service at no charge. I may have not been transformed into an expert, but at least I kind of know now how it works.