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.
Alright I admit it, I’m jealous. I joined a start-up! I’ve seen Silicon Valley! We were going to change the world, I was going to be rich beyond the dreams of avarice, leave the rat race behind and open a beach bar somewhere. But you’ll have guessed by the fact that I’m writing this blog that that never happened. With hindsight, I would have joined Frame, the (fairly) new face of cloud-hosted application delivery. Their premise is simple; run any Windows application in the cloud and access it via a browser, no plugins required.
Originally called MainFrame2, the company began life enabling ISVs to offer applications as a service. It got off to a good start but its fortunes improved massively when the focus changed to end users and the business was relaunched as Frame. With recent investments from Microsoft Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures and In-Q-Tel growth continues at pace. On top of that they recently signed a major partnership with VMware to become part of their Workspace One offering with App Express.
Frame is essentially an Application-as-a-Service company, built for the cloud in the cloud. You install the applications into a sandbox environment and then, when you are ready, publish them to the Frame Desktop (as above) for users to consume. Your applications are installed onto Windows 2012 servers (the roadmap is for Windows 2016 and 10 soon) with the ability to make use of the GPUs offered by AWS and Azure to handle even the most intensive graphical applications. Those screen images are then delivered by Frame’s encrypted and highly compressed display-protocol to the end user allowing any application to run on almost any computer. Removing the complexity usually associated with virtual desktop computing to a few clicks.
So what are the uses for technology like this? Here are a few examples:
- Think about those expensive CAD and desktop publishing packages. With Frame you can centralise them in the public cloud of your choice, share the licensing costs, utilise cloud storage to make collaboration easy and reduce the need for expensive workstation hardware*
- Consider the education sector and the ability to use inexpensive Chromebooks to access any type of application and then not having to pay for those resources during the holidays
- Mobilise legacy business applications by migrating them to the cloud and using Frame to provide browser-based access without having to install anything on the client
* and not just hardware as Microsoft have brought in a new Windows 10 Pro for Workstation licence that affects any machine that has an Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron processor.
However, Frame is not for everyone or every use case. It’s not going to be a way to deal with legacy applications to aid that Windows 10 migration. If it won’t install on Windows Server 2012 it isn’t going to work. You also need to understand your responsibilities as a customer. Although you don’t need to licence the OS you still need to patch it, supply your own anti-virus client, update those applications and then secure the network access to it. And don’t think you can escape the fun that is Evergreen!
Cost-wise there’s a $ per month, per-user charge based on standard, pro or enterprise levels of functionality. Then an hourly rate based on usage and the resources that your VMs consume. Automation is key to controlling those costs ensuring that machines are not costing you money when they aren’t being used. There are features within the administrative console and the REST API to schedule the number of machines available and for those machines to be powered off when they aren’t required. Calculating the overall cost, like a lot of cloud initiatives, is not an easy one though and may not be necessarily cheaper than your current on premises solution. But there are features and functionality that no on premises solution will ever give you.
The big differentiator for Frame is its simplicity and ease of use. When you need to bring additional services you just plug them in. You need identity services? Frame supports them. You want to use your user profile management tool? No problem. Want to connect to Dropbox, Box or Google Drive? A couple of clicks and it’s setup, appearing as a mapped drive within the Frame explorer. Want to share your session with someone else to work on a document or drawing simply email them a link to the session? Need additional local storage or a database? Just click the utility server option and select your services.
Just as data and business applications are moving to the cloud, it makes sense for client applications to follow them. Another nice thing about Frame is that where companies utilise multiple clouds you have the ability to place your applications in the best location to serve them avoiding any lock-in. Also, as client estates become more diverse and the demand from users to work from anywhere increases so the ability to deliver applications simply through a browser becomes increasingly enticing.
Frame is very cool technology. If you’re currently considering XenApp running in Azure or XenApp Essentials, or considering at how to mobilise those legacy applications, then you need to take a look. There are limitations as to where it fits as a solution but where it is right there are clear benefits. Frame enables powerful applications to be accessed from almost any device. It enables applications to be delivered to an entire business anywhere in the world minutes after installing it once, regardless of the endpoint they are using.
So my dalliance with the world of start-ups was not a great success. For the guys at Frame I can see a much brighter future. The question though is how long will it last before someone swallows them up?