For many of us, travel is part of our job descriptions, including my own. Two weeks ago I was in Shanghai, next week, I’ll be in London and in between, I’ve completed a couple of trips between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Let us also consider the daily commuters who switch between domestic and international flights, and who work extensively from home, on the run and from regional offices. Another scenario is the increasing trend in the number of employees who work from home in the name of ‘flexi-hours’. Because of companies streamlining their efficiencies as a result of the economic downturn, driving reductions in CAPEX, globalisation factors and introducing flexible working hours, we are seeing a change in our workspace pattern in the South African market. It is a priority for all CIO’s to consider and implement workspace and virtualisation solutions in 2011 in order to leverage the potential which these trends can provide any business.
A portable workspace, as Frost & Sullivan defines it, consists of a portable storage unit, such as a secure USB flash drive, that contains all the “soft” attributes of a PC: operating system, software applications (business and security), and files. With a portable workspace, a virtual instance of the end-user’s entire workspace is dynamically created and runs in isolation on compatible host devices.
Whereas the portable storage unit contains the soft attributes of a PC, the host device supplies the hard attributes of the PC or its physicality. That physicality includes: electrical power, processors, end-user interfaces (e.g., keyboard, screen, microphone, and speakers) and, as needed, Internet connectivity for online end-user activities.
As a virtual application, the portable workspace has the attribute of being provisional with all evidence of concluded portable workspace sessions on the host device being irretrievable. A portable workspace is, in many ways, similar in concept to virtual desktops (VDI) but without the need for a data center to create and operate the virtual desktops, or network connectivity for end-users.
Which companies would benefit from deploying portable workplace solutions? Well, every company would benefit including government and parastatals. When benchmarking with regions such as Europe and North America, South Africa lags behind significantly in deploying portable workspace solutions although Frost & Sullivan predicts we will see rapid uptake in virtualization and portable workspace deployments by South African companies from 2011. The advantages are too good to miss out.
More than Security
The importance of personal computing to end-users and organisations cannot be understated. For many, desktops and laptops are their primary instruments for communication, creativity, collaboration, learning, and productivity. Keeping these instruments in tune, advancing in capabilities, and aligning with business objectives while also maintaining a sharp eye on expense containment and security is the IT role of desktop management.
Portable workspace solutions have the potential to change how IT serve end-users and companies in new beneficial ways including, but not limited to the following:
Standardised images – Standardisation is huge in controlling the complexity of desktop management. Yet, cost considerations and the varied computing and application needs that exist across departments conflict with a standardisation objective. In addition, end-uses are notorious for downloading and using unauthorised applications. While there are technical and non-technical means to lock-down PCs, validating effectiveness must follow. In addition, dictating standardisation on non-corporate owned computing devices is illogical and near impossible. Portable workspaces represent a new means to solving this old problem. With the entire IT-configured desktop image residing on the portable storage unit, standardisation is closer in hand (literally and figuratively) and end-users can continue to “personalise” their PCs without compromising the virtual desktop launched from the portable storage unit.
Temporary end-users – With just a little thought, the list of temporary end-users is immense when the timeframe of being temporary has no lower or upper bounds. Contractors, frequent and infrequent work-extenders, office guests, home-based workers, and travelling executives are immediately recognisable as temporary end-users that may or may not have IT-issued PCs. A portable workspace allows them to either become, or temporarily extend the time in which they are, bona fide members of the work team with all the IT rights and privileges afforded to them as on-site, full-time workers or a set of rights and privileges consistent to their roles (e.g., office guest less than a contractor).
Application transitions – Portable workspace solutions can, but do not need to, incorporate the full PC stack; they can be limited to applications with the host device supplying the operating system. For organisations needing to upgrade applications, portable workspace solutions allow the old and new application versions to co-exist without the installation of both on the host device, which may not be feasible. This scenario supports a multi-stage transition to new applications which can be beneficial when end-user loyalty to the old version is strong or the new version is partially developed. In this latter case, end-users can take advantage of the final functionality of the new version in their work activities while using the incumbent versions.
Optimised software license expenditures – Also on the application front, the end-user need for software applications, customer or commercial, may not be continuous. Special projects and temporary work teams create non-continuous or long-term application needs. With control over the applications loaded on the USB flash drive and the ability to turn on and off application access, IT administrators can control both those authorised to use an application and when the application may be used. Not only could this assist IT in gaining higher utilisation rates on software licenses but it also eliminates the need to install and remove applications from end-user computing devices.
In conclusion, Frost & Sullivan believes that virtualisation is taking on many forms and producing tangible business benefits. The most popular form of virtualisation, server virtualisation, allows IT to significantly improve server optimisation rates resulting in a reduction in server hardware, data center space, and power consumption for the same workloads. With cloud computing, virtualisation enables Cloud Service Providers to offer computing resources on an on-demand basis. With this computing-as-a-utility model at their disposal, IT organisations can minimise their investments in spare computing capacity and improve their ability to match computing resources with computing demands.
Portable workspaces rely on virtualisation to create an isolated desktop image (the logical) on a host device without being resident on the host device’s hard drive (the physical).
Frost & Sullivan firmly believes that, as with server virtualisation and cloud computing, portable workspaces must also demonstrate genuine costs savings and improvements in business agility in order to gain widespread market interest. This makes for a convincing argument to adopt such New Year’s resolutions by our country’s CIO’s in 2011.