Making Sense Of The Workspace War

Making Sense Of The Desktop

Who’s winning the workspace war? Which technology will eventually win out over the conventional Windows PC that currently monopolises the desks of enterprise end-users? Over the past couple of years, several technologies have claimed that a decisive victory is imminent, from VDI and DaaS, to application virtualisation, to a range of diverse devices enabled by bring-your-own initiatives. Yet despite the propaganda, the physical PC still dominates the enterprise.

Why is this? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why there will be no clear winner of the workspace war for some time yet – and the implications of this for corporate IT teams in terms of managing users, devices, and applications for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Virtualisation Advances

Several observers have been predicting for the past 5 years that VDI will become the default method for delivering users’ workspaces. This may yet prove to be right, but it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. In June 2014 my company surveyed 100 UK enterprise IT decision-makers, and found that the current average deployment of virtualised desktops, whether VDI or its cloud cousin, desktop as a service (DaaS), was just 23% of total desktop estates.

What’s more, respondents’ preferred mix for optimal desktop management was 61% physical desktops to 39% virtual. Just 5% of respondents felt that all desktops should be virtualised. With major vendors including Amazon, Citrix, Microsoft and VMware introducing DaaS offerings, we will inevitably start to see more widespread DaaS roll-outs starting within organisations, although this will depend to some extent on enterprise take-up of infrastructure-as-a-service.

The technology offers added flexibility and scalability and is well suited for adoption, in correlation with companies’ growing use of public cloud services. But these roll-outs will take time, and based on our research, a majority of enterprises are still likely to retain a mix of physical and virtual estates, simply because of their existing investments in PCs and software.

Application, Application, Application

Application virtualisation has been mooted as the solution to all compatibility issues, making it possible for older applications to run on newer OS platforms. While it can help in specific circumstances it is not a universal panacea and is often compromised by a lack of QA testing that can leave end-users frustrated by functions that don’t work properly.

Not everything can be virtualised. The application may not work, or it may rely on links to other software or devices which can’t run on the newer OS, which restricts its capabilities and limits its usefulness. Even if it does work, the vendor’s software license may specifically forbid virtualisation, which would leave the enterprise without support for the application.

What Has BYO Brought?

Debate has raged about the impact on enterprises of consumerisation and BYOD for over five years. Setting aside the security implications for a moment, companies that have BYOD policies face a big challenge in managing and supporting the different operating systems, application portals and user profiles across a range of users’ devices. So BYO doesn’t solve workspace issues: it’s just another way of procuring a computing device for a business that adds to the IT team’s workload.

Solving The ‘And Problem’

The crux is that the user workspace is constantly evolving – something that I refer to as the ‘and problem’. This is the result of the fact that older technology is rarely fully replaced. Instead, it’s constantly being added onto, meaning that in most enterprises, there will not be a single dominant technology or approach. This gives IT teams the headache of having to manage hybrid environments with a mix of well-managed Windows physical and virtual desktops, and laptops, and Macs, and mobile devices, too.

The only common factors across these mixed workspace estates are the need for effective management of policies and user privileges: for each device that connects to enterprise resources, you have to manage the profiles of users, what they can and cannot access, what IT policies they are subject to and deliver a consistent user experience, too. Without this effective management, the results are staff frustrated by inconsistent access to applications and resources, a welter of support issues that drains an IT team’s bandwidth, and a bunch of security issues too. It all adds up to a lot of ‘ands’ that need to be addressed.

As it’s unlikely that there will be a clear winner in the desktop battle, enterprises need to focus on making their mixed environments work as efficiently as possible. This means putting in place the right tools and processes to centrally control, manage and provision all types of workspace that are deployed, in a way that’s consistent with user acceptance and provides an efficient user experience. Perhaps it’s time to declare a truce in the workspace war, recognise the strengths of the different approaches to delivering desktops and applications, and focus on the best possible outcome from both the organisation’s and end-user’s viewpoint. Often, the best way to win is not to fight.

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Simon Townsend is technical director at AppSense.