It has been an interesting year to track Amazon WorkSpaces, especially coming off the 2022 release of Amazon WorkSpaces Core. This week, things got even more interesting.
A few months ago, Amazon reached an agreement with Microsoft to let customers run Office 365 on Amazon WorkSpaces workloads. Just last week, Amazon used its re:Invent conference to announce a new thin client that, frankly, is a surprising twist in an otherwise ho-hum thin client market that rarely releases anything that makes the front page of Slashdot.
The device, named the WorkSpaces Thin Client, is available directly from Amazon.com at a cost of U.S. $195. It can connect to a single screen as well as a keyboard, mouse and other USB devices (headsets, mics, etc.), in addition to an optional hub, which is nothing more than a USB 3.0 breakout hub with another HDMI port, allowing for connecting to multiple displays. That hub bumps the price up to $280.
Management is done via the AWS Management Console and adds another $6 per device per month.
I have some questions following the announcement, but before we get into that, here's what we know so far.
It's based on the Fire TV
The new thin client is based on a collaboration across business units that combines the third-generation Fire TV Cube with a newly built thin client operating system called Fire TV enterprise edition. This translates to greater economies of scale and lets AWS deliver an inexpensive, yet still powerful device.
It's actually a bit of relief that they didn't get lured in by the less powerful Fire Stick, though one could imagine seeing something like that in the future as its capabilities increase. By using the Fire TV Cube, users get the best possible experience using the Fire TV hardware out of the gate.
The specs are good, not great
If you're familiar with the Fire TV Cube, you know the box itself is relatively small. It has Wi-Fi built in, as well as an HDMI, USB and an Ethernet port. Even with a single display, most users will likely need the model with the USB hub since the cube itself only has a single USB-A 2.0 port. I'm guessing Amazon tested this to ensure that USB 2.0 is enough for an additional monitor, webcam and other peripherals, so I don't see that being a show stopper.
Support differs from the Fire TV Cube a little in that the Thin Client only supports 1080p resolution from its HDMI port, compared to 2160p (4K). This is likely due to the expected multimonitor setup, so it's possible the WorkSpaces Thin Client could drive one 4K display or two 1080p displays like its entertainment-oriented cousin.
The uses and benefits are realistic
Historically, I've seen companies enter the thin client market with a new device that claims to be the panacea for all desktop challenges. Thankfully, Amazon is taking a measured approach here and talking about the very real, tangible benefits of their device, such as:
- Reducing costs.
- Quick setup.
- Drop shipping via Amazon.com.
- Centralized management.
- Removing data from the endpoint.
These are classic thin client benefits, and there's really nothing disputable there. The same goes for their equally realistic use cases like kiosks, contact center and administration users and some content editing.
Questions that need answers
There's still a lot that I want to learn about Amazon's new thin clients. For example, this client appears to be aimed specifically at Amazon Workspaces, Workspaces Web and AppStream 2.0 users, and it doesn't appear that those using Workspaces Core with one of AWS's partners are part of the discussion. So the first question is simply: Will it work with other providers?
If it works with other providers, will it work only with AWS workloads, or will it work with on-premises or other cloud workloads as well? If they were to do that, they'd be entering the Thin Client space and competing directly with other hardware thin client providers like 10ZiG, HP and Dell, as well as, to a slightly lesser extent, IGEL and Stratodesk.
That seems like a stretch, but Amazon just released a thin client that can access AWS-based DaaS workloads that run Office 365, so these are strange times we're living in!
If they were to go that route and open up the platform, I wonder if the approach to management would include integration with existing MDM/UEM platforms like Microsoft Intune or VMware Workspace ONE. Perhaps this isn't a big deal if AWS intends on this being a closed system, but if they were to expand beyond just Workspaces and AppStream 2.0, that's certainly a feature to consider.
Though a thin client launch isn't the most exciting thing to happen this year, it's certainly interesting to watch Amazon's DaaS vision evolve over time. I've already begun tracking down the answers to these questions, but if you're keen to learn more, check out the blog where Amazon's Jeff Barr walks you through the setup process.
Gabe Knuth is the senior end user computing analyst for TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. He writes publicly for TechTarget in addition to his analyst work. If you'd like to reach out, see his profile on LinkedIn or send an email to [email protected].
Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget. Its analysts have business relationships with technology vendors.