Storage Informer
Storage Informer

Private Clouds and Portable User Experiences

by on Jun.10, 2009, under Storage

Private Clouds and Portable User Experiences

EMC logo Private Clouds and Portable User Experiences

When talking about private clouds, there’s just so many interesting angles to dig into — it ties so many different themes in IT into a consistent story that I keep getting drawn in like a moth to a flame. Fortunately,…

When talking about private clouds, there’s just so many interesting angles to dig into — it ties so many different themes in IT into a consistent story that I keep getting drawn in like a moth to a flame.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one — all of the customers I talk to are starting to get the buzz as well.  At some future point, I’ll share my reasons why I think this is the case, but — for now — I’d like to discuss the user experience part of this discussion.

This post was triggered by a VMware news item describing how health care professionals can use VMware View to create a “follow me” user experience across thin clients, laptops, desktops, tablets — just about any reasonable user device.

IT gets to package up a user experience, push it to multiple devices, and manage it all centrally.

Talk about your win-win scenario!

Private Cloud and User Experiences

So much of the cloud discussions are around traditional server-based application workloads.  While that’s a great place to start the discussion (since so much computing gets done that way), I think it’s useful to bring user computing experiences in the discussion.

Ideally, we’d find five design attributes here:

  • the user “desktop” (worktop?) experience can follow users around on any reasonable user computing device
     
  • the user experience — the worktop — is largely independent of physical attributes — supports any user device, desktops can run on server, can run without network, etc.
     
  • the user experience supports the incredibly wide range of applications (custom and packaged) without modification or adaptation
     
  • the user experience is centrally protected, managed and secured independently of phyiscal device
     
  • the user experience uses the same technology, infrastructure, etc. as the server applications.

This isn’t science fiction.  This is what VMware View and VMware’s vClient initiative is starting to deliver today.

The Challenge Of The Knowledge Worker

Previous approaches to desktop virtualization (e.g. VDI) involved encapsulating the worktop experience and running on a fast server with a fast network using a thin client.  That was great for transactional users and certain use cases in a centralized corporate setting, but decidedly unsatisfactory for mobile users, or rich media users.

You know — people like us!

I don’t know about you, but my current work-oriented computing complement includes a MacBook Air for travel, an anemic Dell laptop I use in the office, a brand-new Intel i7-based machine at home, and an iPhone.  I also occasionally jump on a few other computers owned by other people from time to time, depending on where I am.

Sometimes I’m on a fast network (love my 20Mb/sec FIOS!) , other times I’m on cheapo DSL or expensive 3G, ocassionally on I’m on dial-up, and sometimes there’s no connectivity when I’m on an airplace.  It all depends.

My email manages to follow me around on all those devices and networks — why not my user experience? 

After all, my desktop environment is nothing more than a big file when virtualized — how hard can that be?

What I see in VMware View is complementary technologies that cover the client range from thin to thick to unwired — plus the frameworks required to encapsulate, push and manage dozens and dozens of different desktop experiences on potentially dozens and dozens of different types of end user computing infrastructure.

I meet people in various industries where the knowledge worker is king.  Think healthcare (this example), or a geophysicist looking for oil, or a biotech researcher, or … well, you get the idea.  A key IT investment theme in these situations is maximizing the productivity of the knowledge worker.

And there’s no argument that this sort of desktop strategy allows your valuable knowledge workers to work on any device, at any time, in any situation, with an absolute minimum of fuss, and do so reliably and securely.

It’s nothing short of transformational when you think about it.

The Challenge Of Desktop IT

Most IT organizations feel chained-and-shackled by the need to support desktop computing.  You have to select your desktop PC vendors (everyone has an opinion), you have to qualify and package software environments (everyone has an opinion), you have to build a process to get these devices into people’s hands, and support them, and secure them.

One approach has been outsourcing the desktop.  That just changes who’s responsible, it doesn’t change the underlying model. 

Others try and reduce costs by restricting choice, using older technology, and similar.

As a user, I can’t say I’m pleased.  I am writing this on a 4 year old Dell laptop running Windows XP.  It has a cracked bezel and a fading battery.

It was decently fast when new, but has since been loaded up with no fewer than 6 agents from our IT group.  In addition to automated backup, automated email archiving, automated software pushes and automated DLP scans, it now has an encryption agent.

Between all the work that the IT group wants to do on my PC, I occasionally get to use the device for a bit of end user work. 

Unfortunately, when I really want to get some serious work done, I don’t use it at all — I use my own machines that I control.  Other than the corporate desktop VM image, there’s nothing on these other devices that I haven’t put there myself.

With approaches such as VMware’s View, IT now has entirely new choices in tackling the desktop computing challenge:

  • continue to hand out and support devices as before — but with reduced support costs and greater compatibility
     
  • consider a “bring your own PC” program
     
  • dramatically expand greatly the device choices to end users (e.g. Mac, netbook, smartphone, tablet)
     
  • bridge server and desktop environments (move apps back and forth as needed, e.g. decision support)  
     
  • outsource the whole thing to someone else who delivers the virtual machines on IT’s behalf
     
  • or any dynamic / adaptive combination of the above

Now, I’m not making the argument that any of these approaches is better or worse than any other one — but what continually strikes me about all of this is the vast range of entirely new choices we now have to address the problem.

And more choices are better than less choices.

Desktop Computing Is Enterprise Computing

Finally, I’m struck as to how so many organizations consider desktop computing as its own, independent functional silo — totally separate from the “real” IT of big server applications.  I can understand some of the reasons for this — desktop applications and software were fundamentally different than centralized server applications and infrastructure, hence the separation.

But modern virtualization blurs the boundaries — what runs on desktops can run on servers, and vice versa.  Multiple server application components can be virtualized and run on beefy user devices (if you want), or dynamically relocated to centralized server resources — or any combination.

It’s a new world, isn’t it?

And, under the category “why is this strategically important?”, I’d offer that it’s a safe bet that knowledge worker productivity becomes more and more important to more and more organizations over time.

Sure, saving money is great.  But making money is even better

And that’s what I see with VMware View.

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