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Shackled to the desktop?

IT administrators should no longer be shackled to the desktop, trapped in permanent rounds of helpdesk visits, security patches and upgrades. The future could be an estate of efficient and remotely managed desktops and mobile devices; freeing IT administrators to focus on deploying IT innovation for competitive advantage, says Simon Richards, IGEL Technology’s UK & Ireland Managing Director.   

For many IT administrators the feeling of being shackled to the desktop will be all too familiar. An endless round of responding to helpdesk tickets raised by users, running security patches and rolling out upgrades. “Surely there must be more to life than this?” they ask as they trudge off to solve another user issue.    And thank goodness there is. A new desktop era is upon us in the form of the Managed Workspace. It’s not perfectly formed as yet, more of an evolution than a revolution, but the future is here. For some IT administrators – those that run thin client desktops - life has been more manageable for some time. Easy profile set-ups and plug and play roll-outs, with centralised remote management have been offered by enlightened thin client operators for many years with the free management software included with every device. 

And by offering both Windows and Linux firmware versions, with a wide range of codecs and protocols included, they are open devices - meaning IT administrators are free to deploy the IT infrastructure they wish with the flexibility to change – without having to worry about the compatibility of their desktop devices. 

A mixed bag

But the modern day reality for the vast majority of businesses is that they have inherited a mixed bag of desktop devices or the workforce, with its varying requirements, demands a range of different devices from PC’s to notebooks and thin and zero clients. What hope then for the desktop guardians from IT?    

Under the banner of Workspace Management, with some simple conversion and management software, many desktop PCs and laptops can now easily be converted to thin client devices in a matter of minutes. This conversion creates the opportunity to manage the vast majority of business desktops and mobile devices like a single estate.   

It makes no difference whether your IT team chooses to work with Citrix, Microsoft or PCoIP solutions, modern thin clients and software thin clients are designed to work with any leading terminal services provider. Even when VMware decided to jump into the market with its VMware Blast Extreme Protocol for Horizon 7 a few months ago, the dedicated thin client providers were quick to integrate the solution into their devices – ensuring customers maintain the flexibility and freedom to choose as they wish.   

The benefits of this approach and flexibility are many and instant. With a uniform desktop estate, the devices can be centrally and remotely managed at the click of a mouse. Firmware upgrades, profile changes and new device set-up can all be carried out remotely, using a simple drag and drop interface.    

Simple, cost-effective solutions

And the latest developments in this desktop management software means that it can easily be integrated with enterprise system management software such as IBM Tivoli and Microsoft SCCM to allow the desktops to be managed as part of the wider enterprise IT infrastructure.   

Another benefit is that desktop security is instantly improved – no chance of a virus here. Even in converted PC and notebook devices the USB ports can be simply disabled or controlled centrally with rules to ensure unauthorised material cannot be added to the devices without permissions. This functionality has proved invaluable organisations such as schools, colleges and local authorities.    

The chance to move to a virtual or cloud infrastructure also suddenly looks simpler and more cost effective because the need to change all the end user devices has been removed. Businesses can virtualise their server infrastructure and not have to worry about the additional expense of changing all their desktop estate at the same time. Desktops can be converted to thin client devices and then replaced with new devices in a phased and financially smooth transition.   

There are added environmental benefits as well. Suddenly the devices are burning less power. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany found that Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) can be reduced by 47 per cent if an existing managed PC is converted into a thin client like device as part of a managed workspace environment instead of replacing it with a new Windows PC. With a notebook conversion, this figure is as high as 55 per cent. If fat clients are simply replaced by hardware thin clients, then savings of 35 per cent can be achieved over a three-year period.

Undeniable advantage

Today there is very little reason for a widely mixed desktop environment. With thin and zero clients now able to offer the full multimedia experience - traditionally an advantage held by PC’s - desktop users often see no difference when PC’s are switched to thin client devices – other than a much faster boot and login time. And with the ability to turn even notebooks for mobile workers into mobile thin client devices and homeworkers to access their network via thin client like devices at home, the excuses for a widely mixed environment of different devices has melted away.    

Put another way, five years ago, running multimedia in a thin client environment used to be a daily question we’d get asked on projects: why do you need it and how do you get it to work? Now multimedia is mainstream with people pushing for higher end graphics, Skype for Business or Go to Meeting and getting video conferencing working. It’s been solved by adding more CPU processing power to the actual thin client device and using software and redirection to manage the increased bandwidth demands between the client and server and vice versa. It works reliability and well.    

There’s been lots happening in this space. VMware historically licenced two protocols: Teradici’s fairly fat PC over IP protocol - ideal for users on the same campus LAN who required high end graphics – and Microsoft RDP – a lighter weight protocol aimed at remote workers limited by data speeds or those who don’t need the same multimedia capability. Early this year, VMware launched its Blast Extreme Protocol which delivers various video formats via the H264 codec and adds real mobile and desktop cloud capability. In addition, Microsoft announced in May of this year that it is now partnering with Citrix to standardise on Citrix XenExpress not RDP to connect Windows desktops to its Azure cloud back-end infrastructure. 

This is a major step change in the ability for SMEs to quickly and simply access apps from the cloud and deliver cloud-hosted desktops at reduced complexity and cost. It is announcement which drives “easy cloud” forward but which has gone relatively unnoticed.    

The advantages of a single, centrally managed estate can no longer be denied. Looking to the future, developments in the Workspace Management arena look to continue apace. Can you feel those shackles falling away from your wrists – feels good doesn’t it?

Image Credit: Flickr / You Belong In Longmont
Simon Richards, UK & Ireland Managing Director,
IGEL Technology (opens in new tab)

Simon Richards is managing director of IGEL Technology in Europe. He has more than 20 years IT sales experience, much of that time spent selling and marketing thin client solutions.