It’s now two years since Amazon bought NICE and their DCV and EnginFrame products. NICE were very good at what they did. For a long time they were one of the few vendors who could offer a decent VDI solution that supported Linux VMs, with a history in HPC and Linux they truly understood virtualisation and compute as well as graphics. They’d also developed their own remoting protocol akin to Citrix’s ICA/HDX and it was one of the first to leverage GPUs for tasks like H.264 encode.
Because they did Linux VMs and neither Citrix nor VMware did, NICE were often a complementary partner rather than a competitor although with both Citrix and VMware adding Linux support that has shifted a little. AWS promised to leave NICE DCV products alone and have been true to that. However the fact Amazon now owns one of the best and experience protocol teams around has always raised the possibility they could do something a bit more interesting than most other clouds.
Just before Xmas in December 2017 without much fuss or publicity, Amazon announced that they’d throw NICE DVC in for free on AWS instances.
NICE DCV is a well-proven product with standalone customers and for many users offers an alternative to Citrix/VMware offerings; which raises the question why run VMware/Citrix on AWS if NICE will do?
There are also an awful lot of ISVs looking to offer cloud-based services and products including many with high graphical demands. To run these applications well in the cloud you need a decent protocol, some have developed their own which tend to be fairly basic H.264, others have bought in technology from the likes of Colorado Code Craft or Teradici’s standalone Cloud Access Software based around the PCoIP protocol. Throwing in a free protocol removes the need to license a third-party such as Teradici, which means the overall solution cost is cut but with no impact on the price AWS get for an instance. This could be a significant driver for ISVs and end-users to choose AWS above competitors.
Owning and controlling a protocol was a smart move on Amazon’s part, a key element of remoting and the performance of a cloud solution, it makes perfect sense to own one. Microsoft and hence Azure already have RDS/RDP under their control. Will we see moves from Google or Huawei in this area?
One niggle is that many users need not just a protocol but a broker, at the moment Teradici and many do not offer one themselves and users need to go to another third-party such as Leostream to get the functionality to spin-up and manage the VMs. Leostream have made a nice little niche supporting a wide range of protocols. It turns out that AWS are also offering a broker via the NICE EnginFrame technologies, this is however an additional paid for component but the single vendor offering may well appeal. It was really hard to find this out, I had to contact the AWS product managers for NICE to be certain. I really couldn’t work out what was available from the documentation and product overviews from AWS (in the end I had to contact the product management team directly).
Teradici do have a broker in-development, the details of which they discussed with Jack on brianmadden.com.
So, today there is the option of a free protocol and paid for broker (NICE+EngineFrame alibi tied to AWS) and soon there will be a paid protocol from Teradici with a broker thrown in, the protocol is already available on the AWS marketplace.
This is just one example of many where cloud providers can take functionality in-house and boost their appeal by cutting out VDI, broker or protocol vendors. For those niche protocol and broker vendors they will need to offer value through platform independence and any-ness (the ability to choose AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) against out of the box one-stop cloud giant offerings. Some will probably succeed but a few may well be squeezed. It may indeed push some to widen their offerings e.g. protocol vendors adding basic broker capabilities (as we are seeing with Teradici) or widening Linux support to match the strong NICE offering.
In particular broker vendor Leostream may be pushed, as other protocol vendors may well follow Teradici’s lead. However, analysts such as Gabe Knuth have reported for many years on Leostream’s ability to evolve and add value.
We’ve seen so many acquisitions in VDI/Cloud where a good small company gets consumed by a giant and eventually fails, the successful product dropped and the technologies never adopted by the mainstream business. AWS seem to have achieved the opposite with NICE, continuing to invest in a successful team and product whilst leeraging exactly what they do best. What a nice change! It’s also good to see a bit more innovation and competition in the protocol and broker space.