Selling AWS to... myself 🙂
Why struggle with underpowered local machines and VMs or watered-down web platforms for heavy lifting, learning and work?
In addition to using ESRI software on mac computers, I am a big fan of the AWS WorkSpaces service (in addition to all their other developer tools, some of which are map-relevant: RDS for SQL and EC2 Redhat servers for data management for example ).
Basically, for between ~$20 and ~$60 a month (Max, and not factoring in EDU discounts!), a user gets to use a well-oiled remote desktop. You can download and license desktop apps like ArcMap and GIS products, file managers, and more from any computer connected to the internet. This service is not very savvy; you make/receive a password and log right in.
A big plus here of course is the Workspaces Application Manager (WAM); small sets of licenses can be administered in the same way desktops would, with extra easiness due to the "they are already really the same cloud thing any way".
Another plus is any client- netbook, macbook, VM, etc- will work equally well. In this regard it can be a very cheap way to get big data work done on otherwise insufficient machines. Local storage and file systems work well with the client application, with the caveat being network speed.