This content is part of the Conference Coverage: A conference guide to AWS re:Invent 2023

AWS' remote work gambit: Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client

AWS rolls out a computer in a Fire TV Cube box. The $195 device gives enterprises an inexpensive end-user hardware option for remote workers and promises tighter data security.

AWS released the Amazon Workspaces Thin Client, a lightweight and inexpensive computer for remote workers, on Sunday.

It combines a couple of vintage ideas: virtual desktop infrastructure, which has been around as long as mainframes, and the Fire TV Cube, which Amazon first released in 2018. But its purpose -- rewiring the future of working from home -- is futuristic.

Hardware manufacturers such as Dell and HP also offer thin client hardware, but they charge far more than the $195 price tag of the Amazon Workspaces Thin Client. They also don't have the advantage that AWS has -- the cloud infrastructure to back up their thin client devices.

"The new norm is hybrid remote work," said Marissa Schmidt, a Gartner analyst, adding that Gartner projects that a third of work that went remote in 2020 will be done in offices moving forward. "So the ability to have the best user experience [working] from home -- as well as being able to manage it through the cloud -- with a thin client makes a lot of sense."

Lightweight computing makes a comeback

The device is called a thin client because of its restricted processing capabilities compared with a full laptop or desktop PC.

"We were playing off of a term that is common in our industry, where customers don't expect anything on the end-user device -- all of that stuff happens in the cloud," said Muneer Mirza, general manager of end-user experiences at AWS.

AWS released the Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client for virtual desktops on the eve of AWS re:Invent 2023, the vendor's cloud-focused conference, held this year virtually and in Las Vegas from Nov. 27 through Dec. 1.

AWS' goal with the WorkSpaces Thin Client is to give cloud-based enterprises an end-user device that is cheaper than laptop and desktop PCs, yet gives IT teams more control over data and tighter security. The vendor is hoping that early adopters will include high-turnover sectors such as customer service contact centers and healthcare.

The Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client device.
Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client is a repurposed Fire TV Cube that delivers work apps from a company's cloud to employees' remote desktops.

Schmidt added that retailers also might find it appealing, rolling it out to stores to maintain a consistent look and feel for software systems from location to location, as well as to keep reporting data in house. Small and medium-sized businesses, too, will likely be a fit, she said, "because many of them were born in the cloud."

The Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client also can't be customized. What makes it attractive is that it's not a data storage system at all, but instead a simple conduit for company apps to reach the intended end users, according to Mirza.

"There's absolutely no software that an end user can install on this thing," he said. "There's no data stored locally. Even if the thing gets hacked, no problem, just disable it."

This gives end users less incentive to keep the device after leaving their employer in comparison with laptops, which can be difficult to claw back from former employees.

Cheaper than a laptop

By repurposing the Fire TV Cube instead of creating an entirely new product, AWS was able to save on manufacturing costs and give customers a more affordable option.

"By avoiding all of those costs, we said, 'That's how we're going to turn this into cost savings and pass those on to the end user' -- or to the purchaser, in this case," Mirza said.

The costs that come with the Amazon WorkSpaces Thin Client aren't trivial; workers still need a keyboard, a monitor and -- for contact center agents and many other jobs -- a headset. Moreover, the various flavors of WorkSpaces subscriptions start at $7 per employee, per month, as well as AppStream, which employs a consumption-based pricing model for streaming apps. But AWS is taking a shot at replacing laptops with what it thinks is a cheaper, more secure option.

That said, laptop makers shouldn't be too worried -- at least not yet. But as Microsoft releases new Surface devices that run as thin clients, and Google similarly brings Chromebook thin clients to market, the genre could gain momentum, said Sid Nag, a Gartner analyst. Cost reductions will be attractive to technology buyers, he added.

"A thin client can replace the work laptop where you don't need the applications or the data resident in the device," Nag said. "Everything runs in the cloud, thereby reducing the [total cost of ownership] of end-user client device functionality."

Mary Reines is a news writer covering customer experience and unified communications for TechTarget Editorial. Before TechTarget, Reines was arts editor at the Marblehead Reporter. Don Fluckinger covers digital experience management, end-user computing, CPUs and assorted other topics for TechTarget Editorial. Got a tip? Email him.

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