Amazon just took another step in its plan to make business PCs obsolete

Andy jassy awsMatt WeinbergerAmazon Web Services boss Andy Jassy at AWS Summit San Francisco 2015

Amazon upping the pressure on the PC industry with the launch of a desktop app store that lets you subscribe to the business software you need on a monthly basis.

Amazon Web Services head Andy Jassy announced the move at the company’s summit in San Francisco today.

Last year, Amazon introduced a product called AWS WorkSpaces. It lets users access what looks like their very own personal computer from any device with an Internet connection. But this PC desktop is actually a virtual version, hosted on Amazon’s servers and delivered over the Internet. Companies pay a monthly fee to Amazon of as little as $US25/month for each one.

Virtual PCs could reduce the need for companies to buy new PCs for their employees. Instead, they could have employees access up-to-date business apps from old PCs that couldn’t run those apps locally, or from so-called “dumb” terminals that are little more than a graphic display and a network connection.

It’s not a new idea — VMware and Citrix, particularly, have been providing similar solutions (known as “virtual desktop infrastructure,” or VDI) for years.

But Amazon reckons companies are turning to AWS already to replace hardware they used to run in their own data centres. So why not offer customers a way to replace their other big hardware expense — the PCs that sit on every desktop? Johnson & Johnson is a major client, reporting that it improves their flexibility and drives down their costs compared with the need to buy and maintain high-performance computers for their employees.

With today’s announcement, Amazon is letting the CIOs and IT managers who keep track of those AWS WorkSpaces buy and maintain applications.

Pick and choose which Windows apps you want to make available to users, paid on the same kind of per-user pricing. The selection includes stuff like Microsoft Office, WinZip, CAD programs, GitHub for developers, and more. You can even throw in any software your company developed on its own.

As long as the internet connection is stable, users shouldn’t be able to tell they’re not using a desktop app. Much like an Apple or Google app store, patching is handled automatically, and in the background, so users are always on the most current version of whatever software without the headaches of massive, constant patching.

Note that while AWS WorkSpaces and similar services could drive PC sales down, they shouldn’t really affect the fortunes of Microsoft or the software providers. Every user still needs a licence for the software they use. Whether they buy that licence directly from the software company, or it comes as part of a deal with a service provider (like Amazon), the revenue going to the software company usually comes out about the same.

Amazon also made a couple other announcements today:

  • A new Elastic File System service for storing files, which has the potential to bring Amazon into close competition with industry giants like EMC and Netapp.
  • A new Machine Learning Service, which will help developers build smarter applications on top of Amazon’s huge cloud.
  • The general launch of Amazon’s container service, helping customers ride the super-hot wave started by Docker; containers make it easier for developers to move applications between different cloud providers and on-premises services
  • The expansion of its Lambda service that helps developers build applications that can scale to huge sizes in a smarter way.

Finally, the massive size of the AWS cloud came up a lot on stage today. In response to the hypothetical question of just how big a business cloud computing is and will be, Jassy had a reply at the ready.

“The short answer here is that we’re growing really really fast,” Jassy says. “Those remaining naysayers better get their heads out of the sand before they’re staring at the tailights of their competitors.”

It’s still not disclosing (yet) how much money the massive service is making for Amazon, but usage of its core EC2 virtual server service is up 93% year over year, Jassy said. For a multi-billion dollar business, that’s a solid growth curve. Amazon is planning to break out AWS financials in its next earnings report, which drops April 23.

“Cloud computing is the biggest technology shift of our lifetimes,” Jassy says.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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