Desktop in the cloud? Easy.

This is a difficult time for everyone, even if you are used to working most of the time from home, airport, cafe, or any other place. The problem is not only how good you are managing your time but sometimes in network reliability and throughput. When so many people work from home, and so many kids are trying to watch streaming services at the same time, your home network might be under severe pressure. In such a case, a remotely hosted desktop product could be the solution.

I tried a couple of such services from the major cloud providers AWS and Azure.

Amazon offers an “Amazon WorkSpaces” product, which provides you a fully managed virtual desktop. It is easy and straightforward to set up.

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If you choose a “Quick Setup” it will do everything for you and provide a brand new virtual desktop in 10-20 min.

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What you need is to pick up a shape and package, and provide a username and the email.

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In about 10 min, you are going to get an email with a link for activation and a registration code. Then you will be able to use the AWS Workspace client to connect to your machine. By default, it runs in “AutoStop” mode switching to an inactive state after a defined time. The default is 1 hour, but you can configure it.

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You also have a choice to keep it running all the time, paying a fixed monthly fee, and it can be cheaper if you plan to use the workspace all the time. You can find different pricing options on the AWS website.

Microsoft Azure offers its product, and it is different in many ways. The product is called Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and it provides a Windows-based VM(s) where you can assign one or several VMs to a pool and provide access for multiple users. The solution is more enterprise-like and offers several attractive options for large or medium scale business. 

At the same time, it is not so easy to deploy it for a single user. You need to add an admin account to your Active Directory, put proper permissions for WVD application and client, create a tenant, and continue by setting up a pool of VMs.

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Please note that the metadata for the pool is in the US, even for VMs that are in Canada.

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Eventually, after going through all the steps, you will be able to configure a remote desktop solution for your company. But, in my opinion, if you want a quick, easy solution, it will be easier to fire a VM with Windows or Linux and go through a couple of steps setting it up. You will be charged only for time when it is up. It is maybe not the most elegant solution but simple and cost-effective. If you want to use Google or Oracle cloud, you might decide to start a VM there and use it as your temporary or permanent working machine. Also, you can prepare a Terraform or any other deployment manager configuration of a desktop with predefined characteristics.

What is the benefit of having your desktop in the cloud?

The first is probably the network speed and reliability. If you start some operations from the VM or Virtual desktop in the cloud, it will be running even if your WIFI has given up, and your connection has dropped. You reconnect and continue your work.

The second is you can pause your work, disconnect, recharge battery, go to the lunch, walk, and return to your tasks without fear that everything is lost.

Personally, I like the AWS solution more because it is a fully managed service where you don’t need to worry about security, patching, shutting down, or any other management tasks.

Of course, it costs some money, but if you are diligent enough to keep it up only when you need it, the cost can be bearable. We are talking about probably $10-$30 per month, depending on the VM shape and usage. Just think how much money you’ve saved not buying your morning $3 Latte 5 times per week. And don’t forget you are in the cloud and you can schedule it to be running only during business hours.

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