Amazon WorkSpaces – Hourly vs. Monthly

Amazon WorkSpaces, put basically, is a Windows 7 desktop running in the Amazon cloud.  You treat it like any other Windows machine, except instead of using it on your local physical machine, you remote desktop into it from any device (including mobile or a tablet) and use it remotely.  Amazon manages all the hardware and underlying operating system for you (sadly only Windows 7 is available at present).

Extremely handy for people that are on the move, security sensitive applications, or need to share a desktop (not simultaneously) with colleagues.  You can setup all the software you need, snapshot the installation and spin up as many instances as desired.

Amazon provides a secure, hassle-free, client to which to access these desktops in the cloud.  Not unlike Windows Remote Desktop, this client gives you access to the remote full desktop, including mapping local printers and sound devices.  You don’t however get the ability to transfer files up and down or access USB drives – making it particularly useful for applications that require a certain level of security.

There is a lot of management tools that come with WorkSpaces that makes it powerful for Administrators to provision and control the machine so the users have minimal access to the core machine.  For example, when a user boots up, they get their own local D: drive that is persisted between reboots.  The traditional C: drive is hidden from view and will be reset upon restarts.  An administrator can install software in the traditional way and then create an image from that so other machines may be spun up with that configuration.

There are 3 different flavors available at present:

  • Value : 1 vCPU, 2 GiB Memory, 10 GB User Storage ($25 per month)
  • Standard: 2 vCPU, 4 GiB Memory, 50 GB User Storage ($35 per month)
  • Performance: 2 vCPU, 7.5 GiB Memory, 100 GB User Storage ($60 per month)

Incidentally if you bring your own Windows license, you can save $4 per month from each of those prices.  You can also add in an application bundle (MS Office Professional mostly) for an extra $15 per month.

You will notice though that this is not the typical per-hour Amazon billing.  Amazon released this service with a fixed monthly pricing model.  This was a little disappointing.  No matter if you run up the service for 1 hour or a full month; you were paying the same.  What is this? Rackspace?!?  This is not the Amazon way.

Amazon listened and just last month they released a new pricing option that lets you pay for what you use.  The billing stops when you log-off and does not get started until your log back in again.  However before you get too excited, there is the question of where does the data go when you are logged off?  Who pays for that?

You do.

If you opt for hourly billing, you have to pay a small monthly surcharge with each WorkSpace you spin up.   For example, per month the Value package will cost you $25, or alternatively you can pay the $7.50 surcharge and then pay $0.22 per hour you are logged in for.

So what works out cheaper?  Monthly or on-demand?   Well it all comes down to just how much you are intending to use the machine.   For example, if you have your accounts software on your machine, then chances are you won’t be on the machine continually – maybe only a few days of the month.

Making some assumptions about the average working month, we can give ourselves a rule of thumb of when you should use one over the other.  The assumptions made here are that there is no weekend work and the average month has 20 working days.

If you do that and crank the numbers, you discover, that the break-even point is around the 4 hrs per day mark.   Anything more than that, then you are giving Amazon more money than they deserve.

On the face of it, 4hrs per day doesn’t sound a lot.  However, for the situations we are using Amazon WorkSpaces the per-hour billing will save us considerably.  It has to be noted, that when you are logged off, the machine is essentially in a sleep state – that means any backup or maintenance software you want to run up in the middle of the night won’t.  Conversely, a secure Windows machine is one that is turned off.  While the security of Amazon can be setup to be very secure, nothing beats turning off a machine to maintain ultimate deniability to would-be hackers.

WorkSpaces has proven to be really useful for us at ParkerGale, particularly as we manage many different portfolio companies and the variety of VPN/firewalls hoops each company throws at us.   I will be evaluating WorkSpaces for my own private development machine over the next few months to see how well it stands up to having everything on my own laptop.

The ease, the security, the flexibility and more importantly the cost, make WorkSpaces a very compelling offering for a company that was about to purchase laptops/desktops for their office.   That cost can be offset and instead issued very dumb down Chrome books.  That CapEx is once more turned into OpEx without the depreciation or upkeep (or headache upon failure) of the hardware.

So before you go purchasing, run the numbers, take it for a spin and see how you get on.