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Tuesday, 09 December 2014 11:55

Desktop Strategy: Why virtualisation is not the (only) answer

Posted By  Kevin Linsell

Desktop virtualisation is just coming out to the expectations sector in the Gartner hype Cycle so how do you harness it? Kevin Linsell, Head of Service Development, Adapt gives you some clues.

Five to ten years ago, many organisations did not have a desktop strategy at all - a desktop was simply an end-user device, provided based on need and budget.  There was often little thought given to the cost and complexity of managing these devices over their lifetimes and even less thought given to the business impact of these devices not functioning or being lost/ stolen. 

However, the consequences of losing a device can be serious, particularly if an organisation is subject to formal regulation. Ignoring the obvious data loss and security repercussions, from a pure cost perspective, the implications can be significant: in 2007, Nationwide Building Society was fined £980,000 by the Financial Services Authority for the loss of inadequately secured laptops and in 2013, Glasgow City Council was fined £150,000 by the Information Commissioners Office for the same reason.

Why do we now need a desktop strategy?

At the same time as the new concentration on security, the role of the desktop is changing within business and there is now;

  • More reliance on computing for everyday tasks across a wider percentage of employees
  • Regulation and governance of data security and protection – depending on industry, there’s been a significant tightening of regulations and enforcing agencies, including the Data Protection Act, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and Solvency II to name but a few
  • Technology evolution has enabled better management and control of end user devices
  • The recent economic climate has forced businesses to try and reduce costs wherever possible
  • The drive to support an increasingly mobile and geographically diverse workforce
  • The acceptance of mobiles, smartphones and tablets within business, often driven by senior management who have first adopted these premium devices in their personal lives
  • Deployment of software updates and changes – both security/ functionality and user/ business request driven
  • Hardware break/ fix
  • Asset management: software licensing and hardware
  • Security and compliance: information and data security (physical and electronic)
  • Evergreening: the ability to refresh any aspect of the desktop (hardware and software) over time to avoid end of life/ support issues
  • End user support and assistance: helpdesk, local resources, training etc.
  • End device selection, based on a pre-defined internal product catalogue:Remote and home working policy, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)  – not just an IT policy but heavily aligned with, or even owned by, HR
    • Technical specifications to meet the business and end user needs – performance, size, weight, battery life, screen size/ quantity, power consumption, noise, etc
    • Functional requirements to support disability requirements – screen readers, text to speech, speech to text, braille keyboards, etc
  • Applications specific to user roles, based on a pre-defined internal software catalogue:Upfront design and software/ hardware investments can be significant ahead of any live deployment to end users
    • What versions of core applications and operating system/s
    • Availability and entitlement to business needs software tools
    • Roadmap for applications aligned with evergreening policy and software licensing agreements
  • The duration of the design, test and deployment phases can cause a length delay to benefit realisation
  • Dependence on network availability and performance can be particularly challenging to some remote locations or mobile workers
  • Licensing complexity and costs, particularly for Microsoft Desktop operating systems, threaten any business case return
  • Application compatibility and performance require testing.  The more applications an organisation has, the bigger this task
  • Management and deployment of patching, updates and applications is still required but often delivered in a different way to traditional desktops.  This can increase costs and complexity

The last three items are partly evidenced by the massive decline in the sales of personal computers (down 10% year on year according to analysts Gartner) and the slump in profits reported by some of the major business computer manufacturers such as Dell.

Whilst no single major event has driven the need for businesses to create and implement a desktop strategy, a combination of factors including those mentioned above now make a desktop strategy a key part of a business’ overall IT strategy.

What does a desktop strategy have to cover?

However desktop strategies are going to differ in their implementation depending on the type of the business.  There is no single correct answer to  as every business has a different set of requirements and drivers, but typically a desktop strategy will include:

The challenge that many organisations face is how best to deliver against these strategic requirements.  This challenge is frequently made tougher by an existing broad range of OS, hardware and software and the need to do so with a static or shrinking budget.  Add in the rapidly approaching end of life status for many common Microsoft enterprise products – Windows XP, Office 2003, Server 2003 and Exchange 2003 – and the ability to deliver becomes very challenging.

Won’t desktop virtualisation deliver your strategy?

Desktop virtualisation, virtual desktop infrastructure and hosted desktops are all terms used to describe the delivery of a desktop from a central location to end user devices.  The technology to deliver desktop virtualisation has been around for a few years now, but uptake has not been as rapid as the industry and analysts predicted, mainly due to complexity and cost.

Just as 10 years ago it was not practical to have a strategy that virtualised every server (due to technical compatibility, vendor support, performance and network availability issues), there are similar reasons why a strategy to virtualise every desktop is not viable for most organisations today.  Many of those server virtualisation barriers have now been removed as acceptance has grown and vendors have responded to demand with improved products.  Desktop virtualisation however is late to this party and has not had the major market acceptance (yet) that server virtualisation has enjoyed. 

What is clear though is that at a glance, desktop virtualisation could deliver many of the requirements of a desktop strategy.

The barriers to desktop virtualisation?

Desktop virtualisation is not always appropriate for a number of reasons.  Some of these will be a major influence on any decision to deploy (or not) desktop virtualisation in an organisation:

While the list is long there’s a danger that a conclusion and recommendation to satisfy all these requirements, drivers and challenges will box yourself into a strategic corner.  Desktop virtualisation is not the (only) answer, but rather a key and growing part of the overall desktop strategy.

Take the barriers to desktop virtualisation and look to the industry and your strategic partners for solutions.  A recent evolution in the market is to offer Desktop as a Service (DaaS) - effectively cloud-based desktop virtualisation.  This is important because it can accelerate your benefit realisation by eliminating much of the upfront investment typically required for infrastructure and design.  A DaaS partner will also be expert in helping you navigate through the licensing complexities and the user scenarios best suited to desktop virtualisation.

Blend DaaS in with traditional desktop delivery and you will have a desktop strategy that is flexible enough to cope with whatever the business demands of you, whilst also meeting your key drivers and requirements.  Over time, the percentage ratio of DaaS to traditional will change, in much the same way the industry has witnessed between virtual and physical servers. 

Make DaaS your preferred solution and traditional an exception.  Each business will be different but today that ratio tends to be around 80:20 - how quickly you get there will depend on your starting point and the compelling event driving the change.

This article first appeared in the print issue of Cloud Computing Intelligence magazine – Subscribe now to get the latest cloud computing information delivered to your desk

About the Author

Kevin Linsell is Head of Service Development at Adapt where he delivers the strategy and services roadmap. Kevin began his career as part of the research and development team at BT working on fibre optic research and Directory Enabled Networking. He then moved on to become Solutions Director at the company. More recently Kevin worked as Customer Solutions Architect at Computercentre, where he provided architectural and consultancy expertise across all technologies to a wide range of customers.

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