Spinning up a bunch of virtual desktops in Amazon WorkSpaces (videos)

This was a pretty fun project that I had gotten so I figured I would share the experience. There are multiple use cases for virtual desktops. In our case, it’s ephemeral – only need them for a few days for a class so that all students can share the same experience without the need for anything but a web browser. They can probably get a better experience with the PCoIP client, but it could be against some company policies. Most companies will allow HTTPs out, so we figured this would be the easiest way.

The way Amazon WorkSpaces works is that each desktop is assigned to a single user and the users sit in the directory service. The service I’m using is the Simple AD (Samba 4) as I had no need for a huge directory. To create the users, we will just need a UID (sAMAccountName in AD) and a password if using the API to create the desktops. If using the Amazon portal to create the desktops, you’ll need the first and last name and an email address as well. You can easily import a CSV file with this information, but for the sake of simplicity, I just use a generic account name and numbers.

After creating the directory and starting up a single desktop, I went to the “Programs” in the Control Panel and “Turn Windows Features on and off” and “Features” to install the “AD DS and AD LDS Tools”. More information on the RSAT tools is available here: https://wiki.samba.org/index.php/Installing_RSAT 

Here’s a short video on how to do it:

Once the RSAT tools are installed, the “dsadd” command will be available to add users. This is the script I’m using that asks for the users and then creates the users:

echo off
set /p users=Number of users to create:
echo "Creating %users% students"
set count=0
:createusers
    set /a count+=1
    echo creating student%count%
    dsadd user "cn=student%count%,cn=users,dc=corp,dc=amazonworkspaces,dc=com" -samid student%count% -pwd Student%count%
    if "%count%"=="%users%" goto done
    goto createusers
:done

The script will create users with the username student# with passwords Student# – the capital “S” is just for password complexity.

After creating the users, we can go and create the desktops. To do this, I used awscli. On a Mac or Linux system, it can be easily installed running “easy_install awscli”. After installation, there will be a config and credentials file that should be configured in the .aws directory in your home directory. Once that’s set, you can check to see what workspaces you have by running “aws workspaces describe-workspaces” – that gives you an idea of what your workspaces look like. The minimal template I’m using for workspaces looks like this:

{
 "Workspaces" : [
 {
   "DirectoryId" : "d-9267258c77",
   "UserName" : "%username%",
   "WorkspaceProperties": {
   "RunningMode": "AUTO_STOP"
 },
   "BundleId" : "wsb-gw81fmq2p"
 }
 ]
}

The DirectoryId is the directory service where the users are housed, I’ll be replacing the %username% with student#, and I added RunningMode just to save on costs – they’ll automatically suspend after an hour of idling. It takes about 90s to spin back up if they suspend. The BundleId is the VM that you want to provision. This one is the customized one for our classroom.

With the template in place, we’re ready to run the script:

#!/bin/bash

echo "Number of Desktops to Create [20?]"
read desktops
echo $desktops
COUNTER=0
         while [  $COUNTER -lt $desktops ]; do
             let COUNTER=COUNTER+1
             echo Creating Desktop number $COUNTER
        sed "s/%username%/student$COUNTER/g" create-workspaces.json > /tmp/student$COUNTER.json
        aws workspaces create-workspaces --cli-input-json file:///tmp/student$COUNTER.json
         done
echo Created $desktops Desktops.

You can remove the temporary files in /tmp afterwards.

Here’s a short video of the scripts in action.

Have fun with your desktops!

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