The quest for the perfect PC: Travelling through the cloud, via VDI and desktop centralisation

Amitabh Sinha has more than 20 years of experience across enterprise software, end user computing, mobile, and database software. Amitabh co-founded Workspot with Puneet Chawla and Ty Wang in August 2012. Prior to Workspot, Amitabh was the general manager for enterprise desktops and Apps at Citrix Systems. In his five years at Citrix, Amitabh was vice president of product management for XenDesktop and vice president of engineering for the Advanced Solutions Group. Amitabh has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Whether you call it a PC, a desktop, a workstation, or some other term, organisations have been provisioning computers with varying degrees of success for decades, and the model is ripe for disruption. PCs and laptops promised on-demand productivity for workers, but in reality, these devices have fallen far short of that promise for enterprises.

Provisioning these physical devices is just the first of many challenges, followed by the headaches of managing, patching, securing and refreshing these corporate-owned PCs. Bring-your-own devices (BYOD) creates additional management challenges, especially from a security standpoint.  In a distributed organisation, onboarding new users can take weeks – which is time wasted for IT and productivity squandered for new employees and contractors.

Organisations have tried to overcome these issues in a number of ways. But these approaches have typically generated new costs, increased complexity and ultimately degraded the user experience. While the workarounds have addressed parts of the problem, none has been able provide a comprehensive solution that gives global enterprises a secure, easy-to-manage, custom desktop that actually meets users’ needs.

Traditional strategies and their challenges

Organisations have been on a quest for the perfect “PC”. Along this journey, PC challenges have been addressed using three primary strategies: Managing Microsoft Windows, centralising Windows or eliminating Windows altogether.

Improving Windows management

A proliferation of technologies and tools have emerged to help control and distribute patches to the hundreds of millions of enterprise PCs out there. Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager and similar tools were introduced but even with these, provisioning and managing large numbers of distributed physical PCs has still been complex, not to mention resource-intensive.

This has inspired hardware vendors, concerned about potential fallout from the cloud, to offer their customers PC as a Service plans that take over the burden for a fee. Managed service providers also play a role here.

Use VDI to centralise Windows

Legacy virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) was intended to make endpoint management easier, while also deploying Windows with the highest levels of security in on-premises data centers. Theoretically, VDI meant Windows could be patched centrally, while end users could securely access corporate resources using a less expensive device. IT wasn’t challenged with a three-to-four-year replacement cycle for endpoints. So great was the promise that in 2011, the forecast for VDI was 150 million users – 25% of all business users.

But this isn’t exactly how it turned out. Much like its predecessors, legacy VDI turned out to be expensive and overly complex, and it delivered poor performance for users. It also couldn’t be easily scaled to multiple locations. More than a decade after its debut, VDI has only been deployed to 30 million users – falling far short of that 2011 forecast.

Still, while legacy VDI hasn’t lived up to expectations, it’s still the number one workload for the data centre today. VDI drives nearly $30 billion in annual spending across software, storage, servers, networking and consulting services. This is in large part because there haven’t been a lot of alternatives, but the emergence of the public cloud is changing this, threatening VDI’s stronghold on the industry.

Delivering virtual desktops on a global scale is now possible, leading Gartner analyst Michael Warrilow to predict that “DaaS revenue will overtake the server-based computing (SBC) and VDI market segments by 2021.”

Get Chromebooks, eliminate Windows

Google takes a different approach all together with the Chromebook, a thin laptop that only enables access to web applications. There’s a lot for IT teams to love about the Chromebook. There’s no patching, there’s limited security risk and low management costs. And most importantly, the devices are relatively cheap to purchase.

In fact, in the K-12 education market, where budgets are a continual concern, Chromebooks have more than 70% of the market share. Widespread adoption in other industries hasn’t been as robust because consumers and enterprises can’t access popular Windows applications and games. To achieve this, the customer must implement VDI, which then more or less contradicts the cost and complexity reductions that drew them to Chromebooks in the first place.

Millennials and Gen Z, in part due to their exposure to Chromebooks in school, expect a simple, always connected, modern web apps experience. That’s been reinforced by the 2.5 billion Android devices out there. Consequently, Chromebooks and Android will continue to be powerful change agents in the quest for the perfect PC.

Implementing the perfect PC

The cloud has ushered in a wealth of  opportunity for organisations to reimagine their data center and IT strategy, especially as offerings like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) have matured. Chief information officers (CIOs) and senior IT leaders are turning to a cloud-first mandate to give their organisations the flexibility and agility needed to stay successful in an increasingly dynamic and competitive market.

The perfect PC is going to look different for every organisation, but is configured from the same essential elements: a globally available public cloud, a solution for provisioning and managing virtual desktops in any region of the public cloud, and a secure, low cost endpoint.  Software as a service providers have stepped in, with some delivering desktops  on the public cloud as a turnkey service, reducing complexity and freeing IT to work on tasks more strategic to the business than refreshing hardware and taming VDI stacks.

Decoupling the endpoint and leveraging cloud compute delivers numerous business advantages. First, IT is relieved of the cost and logistical complexity of PC refresh, as they are able to provision lower cost endpoints that don’t need to be replaced as often. Second, the company gains agility, as IT managers are able to easily onboard new users, in any part of the world, in a matter of minutes to meet the needs of the business.

Third, the organisation can more easily address security and compliance requirements by centralising desktops in the cloud and implementing multi-factor authentication from a secure, stateless endpoint. Lastly, the relatively endless scalability of the cloud can unleash new business opportunities as organisations now have access to evergreen hardware, a powerful framework for collaboration, and the ability to support use cases previously impossible with VDI.

With all of the innovation that has moved enterprises so much closer to the perfect PC, it’s easy to envision a workplace where IT can easily provision a secure, fully custom, persistent virtual desktop for each user in the public cloud, adding more cloud desktops in minutes – anywhere in the world – for new users as business needs change.

Users are issued a cost-effective endpoint, or they may participate in a BYO program. In either case, they enjoy support for multi-monitor configurations when they are in the office or at home, and they can use their device of choice to securely access their complete desktop and applications from anywhere there is an internet connection.

The quest for the perfect PC may be ongoing, but the combination of global cloud infrastructure and massive innovation in cloud desktop solutions are future-proofing enterprise IT today.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data ExpoCyber Security & Cloud Expo and 5G Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.

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