Amazon’s cloudy ‘WorkSpace’ desktops-as-a-service gain a GPU

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Amazon Web Services’ (AWS’) desktop-as-a-service “WorkSpaces” just grew up. And got all muscly, too: the cloud colossus has announced a new option to add 1,536 CUDA GPU cores with 4GB of graphics memory.

The new “Graphics bundle” also offers eight virtual CPUs and 15GB of RAM, plus a 100GB virtual disk for users on top of the 100GB system disk.

You can’t buy the new instances for a flat monthly fee. Instead you’ll need to pay US$22 in each month you fire up the desktop, plus $1.75 for each hour of usage.

Pay attention to that monthly fee, because the introductory post by AWS’ Jeff Barr warns that “Due to the way that the underlying hardware operates, WorkSpaces that run this bundle do not save the local state (running applications and open documents) when used in conjunction with the AutoStop running mode.”

That’s important because that AutoStop feature sees WorkSpaces shut down gracefully when idle, in order to avoid paying for another hour of usage fees. Barr therefore recommends “saving open documents and closing applications before disconnecting from your WorkSpace or stepping away from it for an extended period of time.”

Might there be two things to learn here, namely that AWS is willing to throw specialised hardware at some applications and is not completely confident about the reliability of WorkSpaces?

AWS is going after workstations with this new release. It’s far from alone in doing so, as both Citrix and VMware, with NVIDIA in tow, have increased the graphics-crunching power of their virtual desktops, while Microsoft has revealed an NC-class Azure instance for GPU-hungry users.

AWS’ attack on the workstation market also looks to have data movement costs in mind, as it points out that these new instances “are located just light-feet away” from its other services and can therefore do both heavy lifting and visualisation work in one place.

Perhaps that combination might change our opinion, formed during a second review of WorkSpaces, that they remain intriguing rather than compelling. ®

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