Whether 'tis nobler to rollout a standard Windows 7 desktop,... OR to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by virtualizing desktops end them?
Many of the current discussions we at EMC Consulting (Cloud & Virtual Data Center Practice) are having with IT Managers, CIOs, CTOs and Architect/Designers are typically focused on understanding the Cloud notion, its consumption and management models, and of course ‘how to build one’ . Frequently the ‘what does it mean for us?’ pops up.
Depending with whom you’re speaking the answer will vary in terms of granularity. An administrator asks regarding daily activities, an IT Manager in terms of service delivery and orientation, and the Cxx level is focused more on the realization of sustainable competitive advantage of Business IT amongst other themes.
With the current need to phase out Microsoft Windows XP on the CIO radar, engaging IT resources/personnel for the foreseeable future, and so many other areas of IT strategy still to realize, the move to Microsoft Windows 7 is rather significant. Many are taking the approach of a ‘simple’ desktop operating system (OS) upgrade. There are yet others utilizing the opportunity to replace parts of their desktop estate with long overdue PC/laptop replacements. These strategies are fine if the end result is simply to get rid of Windows XP and come back into the Microsoft ‘circle of trust’. Compounding the situation is the application stack (Ask-not-what-you-can-do-for-your-cloud-but-what-your-cloud-can-do-for-you) - and yet another migration.
Windows 7, different perhaps from the advent of Windows Vista in terms of its timing, comes at a turning point in the IT industry. The desire and interest to move away from traditional models of IT, resource consumption, and device form factors has never been so strong. Indeed the very notion of a desktop operating system is being challenged. We often hear in envisioning workshops this very same thought and if it can be done right now! Not an easy question to answer.
Don't get me wrong here. I am myself an ardent user of Windows 7, coming from Vista (yes I installed that too), and of course the venerable XP. The functionality is fine, and Microsoft have done a good job of creating something useful. However, it is not really Windows 7 that I use daily. It is the applications and the browser that I mainly use. Certainly then, the OS could perhaps be a bit leaner - or as some virtualization vendors are doing - practically remove the need of an OS by creating bare-metal desktop hypervisors (Citrix and VMware initially).
Corporate IT Missing A Trick?
Based on the macro movement in the industry, the Cloud tsunami, Everything-as-a-Service and unprecedented levels of connectivity to the Internet, perhaps the idea of rolling out Windows 7 needs to be thought of in a different light.
We have discussed with many organizations embarking on virtual desktops as a part of their desktop estate mix, if Windows 7 should not indeed be treated as an innovation stream. One stream of many that would herald the move to the ‘digital-nirvana’ user workspace end-state (which is of course different for every organization).
By treating Windows 7 as an innovation stream, a collection of features desirable for an organization to possess, we come closer to the idea of Windows7 being a stepping stone on a path. The implication is that constant change will be accompanying the ‘desktop’ estate for all organizations - in that new features can be bundled and released rather than a colossal OS upgrade.
The very term ‘desktop OS’ is starting to look tarnished and is in all probability a complete misnomer these days.
EMC Consulting has a very strong practice supporting the migration to Windows 7, and together with customers, a different product mix is being implemented. Large swathes of virtual desktops hosted in a private cloud are being rolled out, with some use-cases mandating a traditional local install approach in the interim. However, in most cases the applications are being virtualized to ease the move to delivery via Cloud technologies. Some applications have already moved lock-stock-and-barrel to Private/Public Clouds.
How does this pan out with the ‘desktop OS’ developers?
Well. Microsoft itself is planning to refresh desktop OS’s more frequently than in the past (Windows x details were leaked onto the Internet this year). Microsoft itself is starting the move to Cloud offerings in partial/full form through its Azure offerings amongst others to come. Microsoft Exchange Server, long the province of corporate IT, is itself being considered to be ‘handed over’ to Microsoft in the form of Exchange Hosted Services (EHS). This of course leads to the question of whether there are other email/collaboraton technologies that can be used? Microsoft is embracing this sea-change after a fashion. It does not really have a choice anymore!
It looks increasingly as if change is going to be the new norm. Change is good – and the ability to rapidly change and reconfigure resources is a fundamental competitive advantage in an ever more dynamic cyber-verse.
Essentially, the change to an innovation stream starts to focus organizations internally on features and capabilities they value - not which version of a desktop OS they are installing next. The capability set essentially underpinning their varied business needs is identified and pursued.
In the move to the virtual desktop, this starts to yield real benefits in a very lean composed desktop (separated user profiles, applications, base OS). Initially we had the first wave of this in the form of server based computing models simply shipping out a shared Windows desktop surface. This was inflexible and required great operational control to ensure adequate features for all users (e.g. Citrix MetaFrame/Presentation Server/XenApp, Microsoft Terminal Services/RDS). This model still has its place in organizations today.
Virtual desktops in comparison, being wholly independent of other users’ workspaces, allow a greater level of flexibility, allowing users to continue to be productive in traditional ways, innovate and indeed generate new methods of working. This wave seems to be making a home for itself in the Private Cloud. Offerings such as the VBlock support near on 10,000 concurrent virtual desktops. This is unprecedented in a single offering. These desktops can be created for all users in seconds/minutes from scratch, and remain always patched, protected, and available 24 hours/day accessible from anywhere! The level of control from Corporate IT and level of freedom for users is a real boon in management terms.
We are seeing in parallel the rise of ‘Platforms and Applications as-a-service’ models in full swing on the Internet. Indeed it is possible to get a pre-purposed virtual desktop with the latest greatest Windows 7 (or Linux, Apple OS etc.) as a complete remote service.
We haven’t yet talked about how this desktop is consumed. Ever more capable devices are emerging (netbooks, tablets, iPad, iPhone, smart phones etc.) finding captive audiences initially using these virtual desktops for private purposes, and over time morphing to fully-fledged personal productivity assets equally capable of being plugged in at ‘work’!
This brave new world indicates a net movement away from stuffy large desktop OS deployments on the narrow palate of PC/notebook hardware that organizations are typically still working with.
The consumer experience is driving the need for change within organizations. Organizations everywhere are waking to the clamor of their own users wanting a better experience in the digital workplace (after all they can easily afford a better experience as a consumer – so why can’t the firm do it!).
So why is all this important?
Well if innovation is the lifeblood of an organization, then all the available means to ‘spark’ innovation should be exploited. By reframing the traditional desktop OS deployment approach, an organization may be able to fundamentally change the digital workplace.
There are plenty of examples of companies working to redesign office layouts, use more capable telephony-over-IP, manipulating light and environmental conditions to put the brain ‘in-a-better-state-of-mind' These approaches are working (Back in 2007 this is how things were - Google Headquarter - Amazing Work Place 9/19/07 )! Why would we not do the same for the ‘desktop operating system’?
Thinking about that long term transformation of an organization, every person has at least one good idea in them. The idea may be the one that drives your industry for the next decade. Well is that not worth putting in a little more thought about the Windows 7 migration?
Is it not worth thinking about virtualizatiing your applications? Is it not worth thinking about how the jump to the Cloud will be made for desktops? Does it not make sense to virtualize now to allow some/all of those benefits to stream into an organization?
Some careful thinking now – moving away from the traditional 'administrator/IT group's worldview in ‘rolling out yet another desktop OS & the time is not right for Cloud - there's no other way’, and keeping your eye firmly on the ‘big picture’ will invariably be a sure bet!
Cloud is here today! The desktop is a prime candidate to consider for mass virtualization, and a complete rethink about ‘desktop+applications’ should be on the Corporate IT radar!
BTW - this was written in Germany, connected to a virtual desktop hosted in Ireland, through a home ADSL link, using virtualized applications located someplace in America, and finally posted on the Blog which is located...it does work well!