March of 2020 began as you would expect: people looking forward to the Spring and planning those Summer vacations. All of those plans would soon unravel as the COVID-19 pandemic would dig its claws into the lives of everyone around the world.
A client called on us for help. They needed to move to remote work as fast as possible. This client is in a regulated industry, with high-security obligations. The vast majority of their employees went into the office each and every day.
Like many companies, their initial thought was to purchase, configure and ship laptops to their remote staff. The pandemic had different ideas: the supply chain was in shambles, laptops were hard to find, not to mention the nightmare of shipping, receiving, configuring and re-shipping hundreds of laptops. The company did have a small Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution, but it was already over capacity, and wasn’t very popular with the staff.
Enter AWS Workspaces
AWS Workspaces came to mind. It’s an alternative to laptops or desktops and perfect for the work-at-home scenario. You can think of it as Amazon’s take on VDI, and it’s easy to deploy and scale. AWS has a Windows Server 2016 installation designed for use as a desktop. They also offer Windows 10 Enterprise under the BYOL (Bring Your Own License) umbrella.
Unlike traditional VDI implementations with a limited amount of computing resources available (and there is almost always contention for those resources), AWS has enough overall capacity, such that you never feel like you’re sharing resources with others. While the quota for how many Workspaces you can have is relatively low to start, there is a process in place to request an increase in these limits. I requested several thousand Workspaces for our client. While AWS wanted to verify they had the capacity to do so (keep in mind that I was one of many organizations that asked for large amounts of Workspaces in that same week), they rapidly authorized the quota increase.
Since Workspaces, like almost all AWS services, provides a rich API for provisioning, I was able to quickly automate the setup of several thousand Workspaces. Workspaces play nicely with the systems you may already use, like Active Directory and management tools such as Ivanti or Endpoint Configuration Manager. They also provide their own application layering tools to customize images for various individuals or departments without managing a pile of different VM images if you don’t already have a strategy for managing those assets.
This client had four distinct Active Directory server farms. I connected to all of them in one account and provisioned Workspaces out to each accordingly. This work took only hours to execute. The entire workforce could begin working from home, with all the conveniences of their computer behaving as if they were in the office, with the appropriate security controls still in place.
Within days, AWS Workspaces had accommodated their needs. Additionally, the client could issue older hardware, like outdated laptops, that only needed to run the AWS Workspaces client. This technology saved the client tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in new hardware costs while maintaining their regulatory bodies’ security. Additionally, once life returns to normal with people back in the office, you won’t have a pile of hardware that you purchased and no longer have a use for. Instead, you simply reduce the amount of AWS Workspaces that you have provisioned.
AWS Workspaces offers flexibility in terms of billing, usage, and applications, plus, AWS Workspaces are easy to use. Customer satisfaction with the solution is fantastic, and their help desk couldn’t be happier. Overall, AWS Workspaces made a complicated process easy and I don’t know if it could have been any better even if we’d planned far in advance.
Our goal at LucidPoint is to find the right IT solution for your purposes. Whether it’s AWS Workspaces or something else, we believe IT should serve your needs.