Last week, Citrix announced their revamped Workspace app had made it to general availability. The release brings with it our first view of personalised workflows, showing how they have integrated last year’s acquisition of Sapho and gives us a clear view on how Citrix see the future of the workspace and ITs role in delivering business value. So why do Citrix and others believe this is so important? What benefits will it bring your users and ultimately your business.
Strap lines offering the ability to access to applications, desktops and data from anywhere no longer garner much interest. We’ve been saying it for so long that the Leonard Rossiter Cinzano reference is almost entirely unknown to the audiences that I present to and I have promised never mention it again. The problem users are wrestling with now is managing the bombardment of information that they now receive from an increasing number of platforms that were meant to make our lives easier. Citrix Workspaces approaches this by filtering relevant information in their Intelligent Feed and using personalised workflows that can automate complex tasks across multiple applications into a single click. Solve this ‘Digital Interference’ problem and you go a long way to making the user experience better and so ultimately more productive.
By 2021, IDC Predicts that 60 percent of Global 2000 companies will have adopted a future-workspace model — a flexible, intelligent, collaborative virtual/physical work environment. That seems to support the move to unified endpoint management delivering fluidity across devices and the reduction in reliance on the operating system, even from Microsoft. At the launch of the new Surface Duo and Neo back in October Satya Nadella said, “The operating system is no longer the most important layer for us”. It’s obviously a multi-billion-dollar business, so still quite important, but their future will be in the applications and services they deliver. As well as the APIs they produce to enable other software vendors to integrate with them.
So, what does this mean to users? Booking time off for many people means SAP. Opening a web page, logging in (not forgetting this requires a different username and password from your windows one), navigating the menus to the right area and requesting the dates you want. Closing the page, checking emails to see it’s been approved, noticing that a team member has requested their own holiday that you need to approve, back into the web page you go. Now what if that process could be provided via a micro app? You never need leave your workspace, never need to re-authenticate. Any approvals you need to do are also presented in here. As your Workspace is independent of device approve them from your phone on the way home. This is one example. Citrix Workspaces have integrations into hundreds of Enterprise applications. If they don’t, you can create your own.
It would be remis of me to talk about workspaces without mentioning VMware. Workspace One Intelligence has the same data-driven ethos to focus information for you. It allows the ability to automate processes that you find yourself doing repeatedly and has created an impressive eco-system of security vendors that can integrate to offer the Zero Trust architecture that will be key to securing an increasingly diverse device estate. I’m sure it won’t be long before Microsoft enter this market as well. The next iteration of Microsoft Teams could well deliver that. Whichever vendor you choose to deliver your future workspace with it’s clear that this is another change in the role of IT. One that continues to morph from worrying about locking down and controlling what users can do to one that needs to understand the business and work with users to deliver what they want.
Many of our customers are still wrestling with the challenges of delivering and keeping supported on Windows 10. To them, I’m sure, talk of the operating system becomes less relevant will seem like an oxymoron but once the dust has settled on Windows 7 your people will be working in the same way they always have. ‘Digital Interference’ is a real problem in all our working lives. These workspace solutions will start to solve that and hopefully in the near-future rather than a distant one.
In a previous blog (April 2019) , while Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) was still in Beta, I explored its features and debated the importance of this move by Microsoft into the world of virtual desktop infrastructure. Computacenter has been working with Microsoft and tracking the development of WVD through Public Preview and General Release.
In this blog I will explain:
- Why you should be interested in it?
- What it means to other vendors?
- How can you know if WVD is right for you?
Why should you be interested in WVD?
From the initial excitement of virtualising desktops, born from the success in the server world, VDI has remained at 10-20% of the desktop estate of large organisations. From the premise of everyone should have one, we now focus on specific use cases where the benefits stack up. With WVD, Microsoft are focusing on three scenarios:
- Replace/migrate on-premises virtual desktop deployment
At some point you’re going to need to refresh your existing virtual desktop infrastructure which will be both timely and costly. With many companies boasting a ‘cloud first’ strategy and an ongoing modernisation of application portfolios, migrating those workloads must be considered.
- New Windows virtualisation
The experience of using and managing virtual desktops has become significantly easier in the last few years, whilst the challenges of effectively maintaining physical desktops is arguably becoming harder. Whether it’s a tactical workload like third party access or something more strategic the ability to pilot and develop on a cloud platform removes a lot of initial investment.
- Windows 7 end of support
There will be organisations out there whose Windows 10 plans are being hampered by problematic Windows 7 applications. Migrating those workloads to Azure will give you the extended support needed, and so time, to allow that final remediation to take place. From a compliance point of view, it’s certainly a better place to be.
Single versus multi-cloud strategies
The main alternative to desktop virtualisation is giving people a laptop but let’s assume you’ve addressed that and your use cases for virtualisation are defined. If there is a limitation of WVD then it is its dependence on Azure. If that is an issue it’s worth remembering though that WVD is in fact two separate constructs; “broker” and “licensing entitlement”.
As a licensing entitlement you can choose to use Citrix, VMware, or a number of System Integrators offering turn-key DaaS solutions as the broker to those Azure desktops. The advantage, of those, being the ability to run workloads not just in Azure but on-premises and on other public-clouds from a single management plane. This could expand the number of users that could be included within scope. It also means that, perhaps, public cloud becomes your disaster recovery site of choice. Offering constantly refreshed hardware at a fraction of the cost while not powered on.
You also need to consider where your desktops reside based on the applications they need to access. With so many legacy applications hamstrung by latency sensitivity the proximity of the application and the desktop could be paramount to the user experience and, so, success of the project.
Assessing if WVD is right for your organisation
Whether you are new to desktop virtualisation or looking to transform an existing deployment, Computacenter would recommend the following approach
- Understand your business requirements and the needs of your users
Ensure you are clear on what WVD can deliver that physical machines can’t and match that to the needs of the business now and in the foreseeable future. Define your user workstyles at a conceptual level and use end user analytics to collect the empirical data that will help you understand which users are a good fit for WVD
- Use proof of concepts and early user pilots to gain confidence and understanding
One of the most powerful aspects of public cloud is how fast you can be up and running. Test the scenarios you’ve identified and the applications that are in scope to confirm the user experience. Target users to pilot the environment and gain real-world feedback. Positive experiences will help gain momentum in the next phase
- Build the business case and plan the deployment
Align identified business metrics to the capabilities of WVD. Baseline those metrics and be clear on how you can measure and so show improvement on them. Consider how ongoing application strategies may impact when people can be deployed and where their desktops should be placed.
Microsoft embracing desktop virtualisation is fascinating, and the long-term benefits for everyone must be a positive. Citrix and VMware have been talking about the benefits of public cloud for VDI for a long time, but few large-scale deployments have moved fully to it. Many on premises VDI deployments were not deployed optimally, I think it’s fair to say, and if you were to do it again you’d probably do it differently. Public cloud forces you to re-visit those decisions both from an operational and a cost point of view. Re-visiting desktop virtualisation also forces you to look at the use cases you are supporting and re-evaluate them. Are you supporting how your users and the business wants to work or making them work in a certain way due to the technologies you’ve implemented?
Desktop virtualisation offers capabilities that physical desktops cannot. Public cloud offers benefits that are hard to achieve on premises. Neither will bring success though if the right users and workloads aren’t identified.
Let Computacenter help you decide if WVD can benefit your organisation.
Let’s face it, nobody likes passwords, but now that everything we access exists online, they are hard to escape. As organisations look to consume more SaaS applications and cloud-based services, they will be faced with not only new security risks but also increased costs: 20% of support calls are about forgotten passwords. At a time when digital identity has never been more important, could we be contemplating the possibility of passwords being a thing of the past?
As we’ve seen in the news, people will often create the simplest password they can get away with to make it easier to remember. The drive to keep us secure is now in itself a security risk. Here’s some advice from one security website I found ‘a phrase like “security breeds success” can become a password of “S3curityBr33d$Succ3$$” ‘. Brilliant, thanks for that. I’ve typed my password in 15 times today and it’s only 2pm. A BBC article, in 2004, revealed that more than 70% of people would tell someone their password in exchange for a chocolate bar. Now that is a long time ago and most people are more aware now, but phishing remains the easiest way to gain access to account information, largely in more sophisticated ways than bribery through Lion bar but the outcome is the same.
The proliferation of systems we authenticate to every day means multiple usernames and passwords, which has led to Identity Access Management (IAM) being a major focus for our customers. IAM solves the problem through single sign-on but the importance of that single password then becomes even greater. You can, of course, add another layer of security by implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) but let’s be honest no-one likes that either. By that I mean no-one likes traditional MFA, where you end up having to remember a password, a PIN and carry a hardware token around with you. Multi-factor is the key to this problem, we must just implement and view it differently.
Consumerisation influences all areas of IT. Our expectation has become that how we use technology at home should be reflected in how we use it at work. Vendors appreciate this and have benefited by trialling products in the consumer world to gain experience before bringing it into organisations.
We love the fact that we can use our fingerprints, or face, to authenticate to applications on our smartphones and it’s that user experience that we have started to expect at work. Websites, however, can be accessed from any device and so need a different solution. Those solutions are now being trialled by companies like Microsoft and Google. Both of whom allow you to access services using only your phone as a source of authentication. I can’t remember the last time I used my password to access my Outlook account from a device that I trust. In fact, I’m not even sure what my Outlook password is.
In business-to-employee security, organisations are starting to adopt Windows Hello for Business to alleviate the password problem but a barrier to adoption will be a reliance on the hardware required to support it. It also requires everyone to be running a Windows Operating System which goes against the trend of increasing device choice. Solutions that make use of smartphone technology are agnostic of primary device, they also benefit from often being more up to date than many people’s laptops and something your unlikely to ever be very far from. This should make us consider the additional use cases and possibility of allowing business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions to have a similar simple and secure mechanism to enable people to prove who they are. This would truly digitise many traditional businesses and services, from mortgage applications, to insurance services, money transfers, and more.
The traditional view of authentication is based upon three common factors; something you know (your password), something you have and something you are. Biometrics, along with industry standard authentication specifications (like WebAuthn and FIDO2), can remove the inconvenience of that first factor thus delivering an enhanced user experience, while reducing cost and simultaneously improving security.
Just imagine for a moment that you’ve just changed your Windows password for the last time. Picture never having to click a ‘reset my password’ link ever again. It’s a lovely thought and the reality is not that far away. Until then try taking a phrase from your favourite film, replacing various letters with numbers, adding some random capitals and try to squeeze an ampersand in somewhere just to be on the safe side. Don’t forget to repeat that across all your accounts and be prepared to make changes every 60 days.
World waits to see what it means.
Microsoft have almost always done virtual desktops, well, published desktops at any rate. So, why, since its announcement at last year’s Microsoft Ignite Conference, has Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) generated such interest? Last week, it was finally released as a public beta, so now we can validate whether WVD is aimed at small and medium businesses or can really compete in the Enterprise space.
Cloud desktop adoption is growing as organisations move more applications out of their datacentres and increase their consumption of SaaS, thus reducing the need to site resources locally. The attraction of the ability to deliver a disaster recovery platform without investing in ageing hardware is a compelling one. Similarly, the ability to deliver any virtualised desktop platform without paying for compute upfront removes a barrier to adoption. So far, VMware and Citrix’s Cloud desktop offerings have tried to remain platform agnostic, so can Microsoft make a success of an offering that limits you to only Azure? Here at four features that may convince you.
If you’re a Microsoft 365 E3/E5, Windows E3/E5 or M365 Business/F1 you are already licensed for it. You will, of course, still need to pay for your Azure VMs and any supporting solutions, but it removes the need for the additional cost of desktop virtualisation licensing.
- Windows 7 support
It should come as no surprise to any of you that Windows 7 goes EOL in January 2020. If you haven’t migrated all your desktops to Windows 10 and wish to remain supported, you are going to have to pay for that extended support unless you migrate those Windows 7 desktops to Azure. With WVD you will continue to receive security patches for the full three-year term, if needed, at no cost.
- Windows 10 multi-user support
Windows 10 multi-user is a feature of Azure, rather than WVD specifically, and will come with native Office 365 support. The expectation is that providing a session-based desktop on a client OS will give greater application compatibility, better GPU integration, and an improved user experience than you get with on a server OS. It also gives you an alternative solution for when support for Office 365 is dropped from Windows Server 2019.
- Office 365 support optimisation
Through Microsoft’s acquisition of FSLogix, WVD offers support for Office 365 in non-persistent desktops through their layering technology. This means you can deliver your desktops in the most cost-effective way while maintaining user experience and performance.
So, this is great, WVD will replace the need for additional licensing from Citrix and VMware? Well, don’t forget Microsoft has always delivered basic services in this area and other vendors have enhanced that functionality for people that needed it. So, is WVD any different? At present, Citrix can sell WVD (there’s a whole other discussion here…) and intend to offer Citrix DaaS as an enhancement but what that means isn’t clear. VMware have yet to make any announcement but continue to develop their own Azure offering to rival Horizon Cloud on AWS.
The Microsoft of today is all about agility. WVD is only at the public beta stage, over the coming weeks and months, we’ll see the product rapidly mature I’m sure. But, and it’s a big but, do you want to put everything into Azure? Every customer I talk to has a multi-cloud strategy. Even those that have gone heavily into Azure are transforming their applications to microservices and containers to simplify their portability. Perhaps Microsoft will look to use Azure Stack to extend their functionality to on-prem. They are unlikely, however, to ever allow you to run workloads in other Clouds. In the past Microsoft had little incentive to make massive investments in RDS because every Citrix or VMware license pulled through a Windows one. Now though, those investments are going to drive Azure consumption. Citrix and VMware both have mature virtualisation solutions that offer flexibility as well as wider desktop portfolios, but will it be enough to fight of this new competition?
If you are looking at a tactical desktop virtualisation project and/or you have decided that Azure is the platform for you, WVD needs to be considered. Let’s not forget that this solution hasn’t even been released yet, but Computacenter are certainly investing time to understand what it means for us and what it will mean for our customers.
I am fresh back from the biggest ever VMworld Europe, buoyed by the numerous announcements and developments in their end-user capabilities. On the back of our strengthening strategic partnership I thought it was time to address that age-old question; which is best Citrix or VMware?
It’s not easy being a consultant. It’s even harder when you don’t work for a vendor and so aren’t invested in a specific technology stack. Yes, I get it, there are worse things in life, but all things are relative. For me, nothing represents that better than organisations asking whether they should choose VMware or Citrix? The response ‘it depends’ is often met with exasperation, but it’s key to everything we do, by focusing on the value to a business and the requirements they are trying to meet.
Back in 2014, VMware bought AirWatch for $1.54 billion; a staggering fifteen times it’s reputed worth. We had already seen the explosion of mobile devices into organisations and the realisation of how much more productive they could make people, but it was also evident that managing mobile devices was a different proposition to managing static PCs.
Pretty soon that was looking like a smart move. However, roll forward to 2018 and the benefits of Mobile Device Management are being exploited across the wider estate. Making the purchase look like a fabulous move. The development of Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) has allowed VMware to talk not just about virtual desktops, not just about mobile devices but the whole end-user estate. With this the focus has shifted just from competing with Citrix to move directly with Microsoft. With virtual desktops constant at around 10% for most customers the bigger opportunity remains the physical world hence the development of Workspace ONE. The prize now is looking beyond the Microsoft ecosystem at how the workplace is becoming more disparate, driven by consumer/colleague choice. This strategic, holistic, vision is now more often what drives solution choice.
In August 2017, VMware bought Apteligent, nine months later they bought E8 Security and delivered Workspace ONE Intelligence to improve user experience, optimise resources and strengthen security and compliance. In May of this year, they announced their strategic partnership with Okta which increased their capabilities to deliver a compelling identity story. I said above that the focus has shifted from Citrix to Microsoft, with these acquisitions and the capabilities they bring, in truth VMware is battling against their partnership.
The decision to remain on a certain virtual platform should be considered alongside how devices will be managed, how identity will be handled, what cloud investment strategy has been decided, which endpoint security requirements you have. Most organisations have existing investments in technology that come up for renewal at different times so changes need to be modular and fit an end vision. They must interact and exist alongside other products until the time is right to retire them. So where do you start? In Workspace ONE I see four opportunities.
Device diversity – organisations are increasingly looking beyond Microsoft Windows to support greater user choice. The drive from Apple and Google into Enterprise organisations is, so far, better supported and has more focus from VMware
Consumerisation of IT – as the consumer world now leads the Enterprise world there is an expectation of a certain user experience and ease of use. Workspace ONE delivers a consistent consumer-like experience across multiple OS platforms and form-factors.
Existing AirWatch investment – where mobile devices are already being managed via AirWatch the ability to extend that management to the primary device estate through a ‘single pane of glass’ can make a strong case for retaining and strategically developing investment in VMware.
Existing virtual desktop and app investment – where VMware Horizon has been deployed the built-in integration into Workspace ONE and potential licence benefits could make the case for deploying the wider portfolio of products. Publishing applications through the Workspace ONE app can be a key driver to greater end-point diversity.
VMware can co-exist with traditional management systems to manage a wide range of devices and form factors. Using analytics, they now have insight into the user experience, with their open security platform they can take advantage off best of breed vendors and with their partnership with Okta they have an identity solution to integrate any application strategy safely and securely. That gives them the capability to offer a direct comparison to Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility and Security suite.
Competition provides benefits for the user and drives vendors to be innovative. If you believe that your future desktop strategy extends beyond the Microsoft world, then Workspace ONE is something you need to consider. Let’s have the conversation, just don’t expect a simple answer.
Hands up who has departments that depend on Zoho Invoice, Eclipse Manager or Diagram Painte? Okay I’ve picked some of the more random business applications available in the Microsoft Store for Business, but I’ve not had to leave the home page to do so. Other than the Microsoft applications and a couple of offerings from Citrix there isn’t much there you’d recognise. Because of this the Windows App Store has not so far been a focus for enterprise organisations, but could that be changing?
Microsoft’s attempt to modernise how we install and deliver Windows applications has failed to impress. Continuum was meant to deliver universal applications to run across the entire Microsoft ecosystem, but as good an idea as it was, the developers never came and, so, neither did the apps. That led to the end of Windows phone, while doing nothing to improve the dearth of business content in the Microsoft Store. Terry Myerson, Vice President of Operating Systems at Microsoft in 2015 said “tool kits will allow developers to bring their code for iOS, Android, the Web, .NET, and Win32 to the Windows Store with minimal code modifications. Our goal is to make Windows 10 the most attractive development platform ever”. Apple and Google have their own app stores though and the benefits of moving away from ‘how we’d always done it’ weren’t compelling enough. Windows Desktop Bridge was the last initiative to invigorate the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and so the Microsoft App Store. This time the focus was on migrating 32-bit MSI (so just Windows) packages to APPX (Universal) ones. However, to gain all the benefits of UWP additional development is required and that is a barrier to organisations adopting it. In 2017 Microsoft released the MSIX package format to replace MSI, APPV and APPX extensions and get around this problem. MSIX has all the features of UWP with more container security options and extra application customisations. To further aid the adoption of the new standard, Microsoft open sourced the entire project on GitHub. MSIX is still in its infancy and has only just gained support in Windows 10 1809. The current format does not support driver installation, Windows service installation or modification, kernel or Explorer modification. Having said that the promise is very much in line with the messaging around Modern Management and the continued consumerisation of the Windows desktop. The abstraction of applications from the OS increases the ease at which feature updates can be deployed and offers the self-service experience users now expect.
The previous lack of a cohesive application strategy has held back the promise of a Windows App Store resulting in the chicken and egg problem: if Microsoft can entice software developers to take up the MSIX format people will use the app store, if people use the app store software developers will develop apps for it. The concept is a seismic shift away from how we Windows applications are delivered. but then Windows 10 demands we consider applications in an entirely different way. As we change the way we manage Windows, so ISVs are having to change the way they develop software to keep up with the moving target that Microsoft is presenting. This ability to distribute software across the globe, through a store, with their latest supported versions immediately available to users as soon as they update Windows is hugely appealing for all concerned.
Whatever platforms and initiatives Microsoft invent they are completely beholden to the developer community and the behaviour of users. A consistent message will go a long way to helping them. The hope is obviously to replicate the consumer experience we take for granted with application update notifications. However, other platforms may not have 30 years of legacy applications to contend with. Business-critical, internally developed applications needing extensive user testing before release, will always be treated differently but ‘Evergreen’ is changing application testing. You aren’t going to test 3,000 apps every six months, so which ones do you really care about? Which will you test proactively and which reactively? The drive to modernise applications continues at pace but plenty of legacy remains that could be adapted to be delivered from a Windows App Store. For now though, we’ll have to wait and see what the uptake of MSIX is, both with the software vendors and internal packagers.
Based on the organisations I speak to, we’ve reached roughly a 50/50 split between SaaS and traditional ones. If we assume that the easy ones get transformed first we’re now into the long Microsoft tail of applications we still have to deploy out to colleagues. To do this we need new solutions and MSIX seems to enable this. Does MSIX spell the end of App-V? Probably. Does this mean the reality of a Business App Store is upon us? Possibly. The demand for, and expectation of, a Windows App Store is certainly there, we just need the applications. Of course, you could be one of the 16 people worldwide who use Zoho Invoice in which case you’re already living the dream.
Zero touch deployment is something of a Holy Grail in the desktop configuration management world. Even with complex scripting and numerous third-party products it has continued to evade us. Does that now change with the advent of Microsoft Autopilot? Will you become the Indiana Jones of your organisation?
So what is Windows Autopilot? Autopilot is a process more than a technology, which enables you to take a Windows 10 device out of the box, connect it to a network, type in your credentials and voilà! Moments later (timings dependent on many factors, obviously) you’re up and running complete with applications and data. Truly zero touch (if you exclude the typing); but only for the right users, in the right locations, with the right applications.
At a high-level you upload – or more likely your hardware manufacturer will – your device IDs to your company’s Azure tenancy and you get your policies and applications applied as you login without the need to re-image. The technology behind this is based upon modern management (unified endpoint management) so this will work with any Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) vendor. Modern management makes use of the APIs enabled in Windows 10 and allows you to manage them in the same way you do the mobile devices in your estate. So SCCM equals traditional, AirWatch, Intune etc. equals modernity. The problem is SCCM has a long history and manages the majority of enterprise organisations’ estates today. That’s a good deal of customisation and knowledge that’s been baked-in over the years as well as the features and functionality that the EMM boys are yet to develop.
There’s also the consideration of whether you join your machines to Active Directory. Autopilot is dependent on Azure AD. This brings your identity strategy into question. Are you ready to switch off AD? APIs give you access to a few thousand settings but group policies run to tens of thousands and if you consider that they’re really just registry settings then they’re virtually infinite. So how quickly could you translate all that configuration onto a new platform?
Microsoft is well aware of this though and since Windows 10 1709 allowed Autopilot to work in conjunction with SCCM in a hybrid model. This allows you to join machines to Azure AD and your local AD, which goes some of the way to solving the current restrictions. However, deployment is still triggered by your EMM tool and so the granularity that SCCM offers is somewhat negated. So what does that mean in practice? Statistically, seven out of ten people reading this are not going to be on Windows 10 yet and so have a transformation programme ahead of you. Thousands of users will be sitting in your offices ready for their new devices. They’ll get them, unbox them and individually start downloading 20GB data across your network. How do you see that going?
Modern management, as a technology, is developing fast so it definitely needs to be part of your strategy but you need to know your use cases and requirements to get the greatest benefits from it. Users who spend the majority of their time away from the office and have a limited application set are a great place to start. Generally, for office users you’ll want to deploy to them using a traditional SCCM imaging solution. Once they’re on Windows 10, then modern management is the way to go as you transition away from local AD security policies and traditional application delivery, but that is a process that will take time to reach maturity.
This is the future of deployment, without a doubt, but for the time being it needs to be part of an overall deployment strategy. As colleagues have become more mobile traditional management methods have failed to keep up. EMM platforms were built with the assumption that all users are mobile. The transformation of your environment will most likely be suited more towards SCCM with some opportunity for Autopilot. Once you get to Windows 10 though, more users are likely to be suitable to be managed in a modern way. As the technology develops more new and refreshed devices will come into scope. The key here is to make Autopilot part of your infrastructure now, but understand which users are able to make use of it. Be aware though that in six months’ time those use cases will have changed and grown so they need to be reviewed regularly. In Autopilot Microsoft has finally caught up with Apple’s Device Enrollment Programme and the expectation that users have for how things should work. So maybe you will find the Holy Grail and won’t need the hat and whip!
Until this year, every year since 2008 has been ‘the year of VDI’. The one where virtual desktop growth would increase exponentially and everything else would be the exception. I did my first virtual desktop project in 2010 (not for Computacenter I hasten to add). I’ll tell you now it was not a great success. Actually, that’s not fair, it did work, there were just some caveats. We explained to the users not to look at web pages with lots of pictures, or view videos (obviously) and to expect some typing delays during busy periods – that sort of thing. I’m sure you can imagine the conversations we had. My efforts to explain how clever it all was were wasted.
That was a while ago. The technology caught up and virtual desktop user experience improved to be at least on a par with their physical counterpart. So why has VDI remained at 10% of the desktop estate for the majority of organisations? Why does no-one talk about the year of VDI anymore and what is the future?
The problem with VDI remains its complexity. Complexity to design, deliver and support. Where mobility and flexibility are important the easiest and most cost-effective solution has been to give users laptops. This left 10% of users for whom virtual desktops made a real difference. These individuals usually worked in areas where focus of return on investment was about enabling ways of working that traditional desktops couldn’t, such as securing access to data from third parties and contractors; where task workers with limited application sets are required (call centres); or to provide the ability to return to a known good state quickly and easily (developers and testers).
Now it’s beginning to feel like VDI numbers are declining or at best have stabilised. The rise of Apple and Google in the enterprise and applications increasingly moving to SaaS (browser-based solutions) means we are no longer so reliant on a Windows operating system. Content management and contextual security has also removed some of the security concerns that previously made the case for VDI.
I’m not suggesting Windows is dead! Yes, device proliferation is a thing, but we will still need to access Windows apps that people lack the desire, or possibly the knowledge, to modernise. What we need is some way of delivering just the application through a client that runs on any OS. We can do that. We’ve been able to do that since 2001 with MetaFrame, earlier if you count WinFrame, so as is often the way, IT solutions previously discounted as ‘old-hat’ has come round again as the solution to all our problems. Things have moved on a bit though.
- Frame gives you the ability to access Windows apps just using a browser
- VMware utilise Windows RDSH through Workspace One to provide a fully integrated solution that can be deployed on premises or public cloud
- Citrix XenApp (the replacement to MetaFrame) can be consumed from the Azure marketplace, any public IaaS platform or on premises
The benefit to the user is the best native experience on the device they have chosen with the ability to access their business applications in a virtually seamless, albeit online-only, manner. The benefit to the organisation is the ability to offer choice while maintaining a simple and secure way of delivering Windows applications. At least it is for the foreseeable future.
I once heard someone say that XenDesktop was a great advertisement for XenApp. When you had a requirement for server-based computing nine times out of ten XenApp was the best answer. The year of VDI never came but server-based computing will be around for a while yet so maybe this year will be the year of the published app. Not that anyone’s going to be stupid enough to prophesy that!
A few years ago it looked like an inevitability – better connectivity, better remote-working solutions and collaboration tools combined with the drive to save money meant the office was finished. The daily commute would become as rare as telephone boxes or eating your hamburger with a knife and fork. So, with the end of office working looking like a safe bet for futurologists why are the most technologically advanced and disruptive companies now spending billions on flagship buildings?
Maybe because although software solutions have matured and developed and high-speed Internet access at home is now ubiquitous, face-to-face interactions remain far and away the most effective way to collaborate. It also turns out that people like being around other people (mostly) and the more time we spend at home the more we notice the jobs we’ve been prevaricating over. So perhaps the office isn’t dead, but it will need to look very different from the current offerings before we maximise its potential.
Today’s open plan offices were designed to enhance teamwork and encourage the exchange of ideas but the reality is somewhat different. Modern office designs are blamed for everything from reduced job satisfaction and productivity to increased stress and sickness. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has decided to stay at home because I’ve had some work to get on with. Google and Facebook (to name just two) recognise that getting people to work together effectively means giving them an environment that enables it, that they enjoy being in and which creates a culture that drives them. Cynically, some may say, it is also in their interest to create an atmosphere that encourages and facilitates people to spend longer at work.
The speed at which new ideas can be turned into profitable services is critical to success and relevance in the digital age. The buzz words now are all about activity-based working. The new spaces are not going to look like the offices most of us have spent time in. They offer a range of spaces that allow you to be effective whatever the type of work you want to carry out be that an impromptu meeting, a private phone call or a workshop. Match those spaces to technology and workstyles and it all starts to make sense.
How does it support Digital working?
As much as technology can be a barrier to good user experience so can physical workspaces. By offering different types of spaces people are not dictated to about how they should work or even where they should work. The role of the modern office is to allow people to access the spaces required for the tasks they need wish to carry out. Making these changes has other far-reaching effects.
Brand perception – A clean, modern website can pique interest in a company but that can disappear if the offices don’t match the image. Disruptive and innovative companies, more often than not, have disruptive and innovative office designs that represent the type of company they are and their culture.
Improved collaboration and communication – Modern workspace design is about enabling better collaboration and communication. Being able to socialise at work can build stronger relationships and improve the network you can draw upon through contact with colleagues outside your immediate circle.
Create or drive culture – The types of spaces you create can drive certain behaviours and motivate employees to try new ways of working and thinking, thus allowing the company more input into establishing or building on the culture it is striving for.
Maximise productivity – The open plan office is efficient in terms of space but a common complaint is the number of distractions, which can impact productivity. The latest office designs are about creating multiple types of spaces that mean people can find the place to work how they want.
Attract talent – Companies are fighting to attract and retain the talent. The balancing act is offering the technology to allow them to work effectively from wherever they want but also a physical environment that offers collaborative and social elements to balance work and life.
Boost staff morale – Once you’ve attracted talent you have to keep it. Time away from work can enhance the time at work so there’s a balance to be struck between areas designed to be productive in and those designed for pure fun. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, schedules two hours of uninterrupted thinking time per day. Bill Gates reputedly took a week off twice a year just to reflect without being disturbed. Think micro breaks though not half a day sitting round a swimming pool.
What’s the future?
The direction set by digital disruptors will no doubt be taken up by the corporates to some degree. For smaller companies and start-ups more innovative working styles have already started to emerge. Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared environment that contains people from more than one company. Believed to have begun in San Francisco in 2005 the number of seats has roughly doubled every year since. The concept began with tech start-ups looking to work somewhere other than coffee shops and home workers looking for more human interaction during their working day. People are seeing them as more than just a physical space now but as a way of networking and building a community of likeminded people.
There seems no slowing in the growth of co-working fuelled by the gig economy and the predicted rise in the numbers of contractors employed by companies. People will always want the social element of work and the networking opportunity that working alongside people from other businesses is a bonus.
It’s also likely that other industries will start to make use of shared working environments as they look to collaborate outside their own sphere. Businesses focusing on science, robotics and AI will move from out of town to make use of the urban tech hubs that are developing in areas like Old Street.
So, the Office is not dead!
Even with technology’s exponential rate of development there is no substitute for physical interaction. It is crucial to consider the human element of why we work the way we do and why the social side of that is so important to our overall health.
However, the reality for most companies is that office space is shrinking. Nearly all new designs have fewer desks than people and so rely on remote working to an extent. This only increases the need for whatever space remains works as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Not all companies are going to build Olympic-style running tracks on the roof of their building or full-size basketball courts in a bid to draw people into the office. The reality for most is that a certain amount of home working is now enforced as the ratio of desks/people decreases. The potential outcomes are the same though. By putting more thought into the spaces that people need for work the time they do spend there will be much more productive and enjoyable. Until then, if you need to get on with something and don’t want to work from home just put your headset on, listen to some calming music and pretend you’re on a conference call. You didn’t hear that from me right?
I remember clearly the day it seemed that VMworld ‘jumped the shark‘ (follow the link if you’re too young to get the reference). It was 2014 and Pat Gelsinger (VMware CEO) was giving his keynote speech. Behind him the enormous screens were repeatedly displaying the words ‘Brave’ and ‘Fluid’. Where was the technology? Where was the cool stuff? Thinking back though, maybe I was wrong to be so scathing.
It’s certainly true, that the pace at which technology is developing means it is no longer an obstacle to addressing most business problems. The challenge now, is how we position it, how we apply it, how we explain its value to people and how we help them get the most out of it. Maybe there was something in it after all. I was right about Evo:Rail though, Pat.
As my colleague, Paul Bray wrote in ‘The Shifting Role of IT in the Digital Workplace’, the IT department is contending with the move from an environment designed for stability to one designed for agility (or, in other words, fluidity). This is as much a cultural change for the people who have spent their careers focused on managing the pace of change and being risk adverse, as it is for the users having to adopt it. It is fair to say though, that not all users or businesses are that demanding of technology. It’s in these situations that IT staff need to perform a role that they are often not confident in doing or able to do effectively. They need to engage with the business (gasp!) They need to be able to translate business requirements into technology solutions and they need to communicate how those solutions can be measured against business metrics to show their value. IT can then have an input into the business case, without owning it.
Here’s an example – Business A has identified that it takes 60 days for sales staff to be ready for their first customer engagement and feels this is losing them the competitive edge. IT identifies that new starters have to be trained on 12 different systems. Booking and completing these courses takes valuable time and effort. In consolidating those 12 systems the business can provide a better user experience, reduce support costs and enable new sales staff to be productive much more quickly. The costs of the software that will do this can then be directly related to the increased speed at which new starters are out selling and being productive, and so the business case is created. In this way IT proves its value to the business and fights off the competition that often comes from disgruntled employees with a credit card.
Here’s another example that’s close to my heart. It’s time to roll out Windows 10. There’s no point burying your head in the sand, you’ve got till 14 January 2020 to get off Windows 7 (like you didn’t know). On its own it’s hard to push the benefits – better security, device support, blah, blah, blah… Windows 10 is just a platform for you to build your Digital Transformation on. Talk to the business, talk to the users. How would they like to work? How is the IT they currently use preventing them from doing that? What is the business plan for the next five years? How can the solutions you want to deploy support that? Or at the very least not be a hindrance to it. Then when you’ve introduced those solutions you will need to constantly innovate and measure their uptake as well as understanding what’s worked well and what hasn’t. In this way the ‘Evergreen’ nature of Windows 10 does help. The new normal is going to be constant change.
So yes, IT, you have to be ‘brave’ and you have to be ‘fluid’. You have to accept that the world is changing fast and there are new skills that have to be learnt in order to survive. The pace of that change brings with it a fluidity that needs to be managed and its benefits explained. What’s the alternative? As we see the continuing drive from vendors to consume everything as a service, IT is under real pressure to show its value, to be defined not as cost centre but as an innovator and enabler in the Digital World. That starts with being able to identify business needs and then recommend solutions for them. Telling the CxO that you’d like to roll out a new product so that users can search for things more easily is not explaining its value. IT needs to understand the language of business, support the organisation’s aspirations and provide metrics to show success.
The future of internal IT is becoming less and less technical as a result of this. Those that don’t embrace this and fail to see the importance of the ‘productisation’ of IT risk becoming irrelevant to the very businesses they support.