Editor’s Note: Stelligent has been a remote-first company since 2013. All of our employees work from home, providing cloud consulting services to the public sector and corporations all over the United States. We love our remote culture, but the arrangement has its challenges. We’re publishing a series of articles to share our insights with everyone who may be facing those challenges for the first time.

Many companies are struggling today to keep their employees working. Constantly changing mandates from state and federal governments to close offices are creating unforeseen challenges.  IT Departments are facing expensive year-long contracts for additional licenses. Companies who used desktop computers for employees are struggling to locate laptops. If they can, they still need to find a way to safely get them into the hands of employees whose desktop computers are stuck at the office.

In our Webinar “The Future of Work – Working from Home with Amazon WorkSpaces”,  we show how companies struggling with either of these situations could use Amazon WorkSpaces to get employees working securely. We also discuss how it can help companies avoid using VPNs which add remote devices to their corporate network. These are the key takeaways and reasons to start testing Amazon WorkSpaces now.

Amazon Workspaces has clients that run on many devices. These clients allow your employees to securely access their corporate applications and files from wherever they are. AWS has eliminated the upfront pricing and simplified management so more companies can benefit from this.

What is Amazon WorkSpaces

Traditionally, users had desktop or laptop computers that their applications ran on. These applications accessed files and databases within the corporate data center. Employees who are outside offices use Virtual Private Networking (VPN) software to securely access the same files and databases. This created a complex extension of the corporate network to many devices in unknown locations.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI can provide an alternative to connecting remote devices directly to the corporate network. Applications are moved to central servers which then send images of the desktop to the end users. Amazon Workspaces client secures its connection to the central service eliminating the need for additional VPN licenses.

Key advantages over traditional desktops

  1. Consistent User Experience – Users all use the same operating system and configuration.
  2. Reduced Network Exposure – VPNs connect the client computer to the corporate network. Secure VDI clients only connect the VDI client application to the VDI server.
  3. Data Stays in Your Control – When a traditional laptop is lost, all data on it may be out in the open. If you lose a laptop only used to access your VDI, you don’t lose any corporate data.
  4. Business Continuity Planning – When you have a VDI service and a proper DR plan for it, keeping users working is much easier in the event of an interruption.

Previously corporations wanting to offer VDI had to provision a significant pool of computing resources. The servers and license fees put VDI solutions outside the reach of many companies. Cloud computing reduced the upfront costs to companies needing computing capacity. In the same way, Amazon WorkSpaces eliminates the upfront cost of VDI and significantly reduces the complexity of implementing it. Companies who have purchased Windows licenses can look at the BYOL option. If your Microsoft License Terms allow it, you can use this to migrate licenses to the Amazon Workspaces solution.

Connecting to Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon WorkSpaces Login

Amazon WorkSpaces Login

Once WorkSpaces has been configured for your users, they will receive an email with a link to the  Amazon WorkSpaces Client Download page and a registration code. The employee needs to download the client, install it, launch it, and then enter the provided registration code before their first use. From then on, they can use their desktop any time just by logging in.

Now your employee is ready to go at their company desktop. All the company supplied applications are already installed for the user. They can access the network file shares just as they always have.

Depending on how many employees your company has and how unique their functions and needs are, you can create several “golden images”. Administrators launch Workspaces from these “Golden Images” which contain an installations of the operating system and applications. These ensure each employee has the right tools to do their job ready when they login.

WorkSpaces Pricing

Workspaces Pricing Graph showing Average Price cross monthly always on pricing just above 80 hours of use

The WorkSpaces always on price is less than the average hourly price when usage exceeds 80 hours a month.

Amazon WorkSpaces pricing can be a bit confusing. Let’s simplify it with a quick overview and then guide on when each pricing model is best. The first pricing model is “Always On”. As the name implies, the workspace is always on and available for users. This results in quicker login times for users, consistent billing for finance, and the ability for scheduled tasks to run as needed.

The second model is Hourly Pricing. This model has a monthly base price that covers licensing, management, and storage. There is an additional per hour price for time when the workspaces is turned on. This model is great when you have infrequently scheduled workers.

When reviewing the pricing models, the breakeven point tends to be around 80-85 hours. The specific point varies based on CPU, Memory, Storage, and Windows Licensing. This means that for any full time employee using their computer every day, Always On is a better choice. Additionally, even part time employees who are regularly using their computer, will likely exceed this breakeven point. Hourly pricing is an excellent way to do initial testing, configuration, and user training.

Ready, Set, Go

We use a simple three step process to describe the effort needed to implement a VDI solution.

Ready

Start getting “Ready” by lining up your executive sponsorship lined up for the project. Then look at your internal policies and procedures.  Are changes needed to support employees using their own devices and running the client application? Finally, evaluate your options like Amazon WorkSpaces to find the right technology and partner to meet your needs.

Set

Next, get “Set”. This is the time to create the golden images. Install and test applications your employees need. Perform security and compliance checks to ensure that all settings are correct. Provide training to employees using virtual desktops. This training is a great time to have employees test out the solution to ensure it is working as intended. This training and testing should be an ongoing process. This ensures that the images is alway up to date and users are comfortable when they need to switch over to their WorkSpaces.

This is also the time to focus on automating the solution.  Create a pipeline that can automate the creation and deletion of WorkSpaces. Execute this pipeline regularly. Automating this process ensures users can be added and removed at any time.

Go

It’s time to “Go”. Launch the solution and let the employees know it’s time to use the solution. Make sure to let everyone know where they can go with questions. Offer repeat training sessions focusing on key tips and techniques.  Employees will appreciated a timely refresher even though they have attended training. This is the time to make people comfortable that they know how to use the solution.

Once you try out WorkSpaces, you may want to make it your default company desktop for all users. It provides a great solution and can eliminate CapEx costs of purchasing laptops and desktops for new users. Your IT department can also support it better than a mix of hardware purchased at different times. In that case, “Go” is when you start migrating your employees from their existing desktops and laptops to their WorkSpaces.

WorkSpaces_Webinar Repo

Workspaces Demo Architecture

Workspaces Demo Architecture

When we created our architecture for the demo, we built as much as we could in CloudFormation. This ensures we can rapidly deploy and also clean up our infrastructure. It consists of a “Corporate Network” that contains an Active directory and server sharing files. Then it adds a second network for the WorkSpaces. If you’re interested in testing the solution out, these templates can be a great way to experience workspaces.

Up&Running by Mphasis Stelligent

If your company is looking for help bringing a VDI solution in, Mphasis Stelligent offers our Up&Running packaged Desktop-as-a-Service to jumpstart our clients on Amazon WorkSpaces. For more information please email [email protected].

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