By Steve Bransen
A colleague of mine recently referred to the term “workspace” as, “yet another new word for old ideas.” While his assessment has some merit, it undervalues the importance of the concept in relation to the emerging challenges in endpoint management.
The idea of a workspace approach to user computing actually dates back to the 1960s with the introduction of terminal services for mainframes. The first time I recall actually hearing the term was roughly a decade ago from virtualization solution provider RingCube, which was later acquired by Citrix, so the idea is not as new as some people may think. However, its relevancy has never been more acute than in its ability to specify a key concept in user computing today—the abstracted layer of applications, data, and digital services that are customized to meet individual user requirements.
It is still more commonplace to hear the term “desktop” rather than “workspace” to refer to a user’s personal computing environment. However, the taxonomy of the word “desktop” can be unnecessarily confusing. A desktop can refer to a non-portable computer—to differentiate it from a laptop; a PC operating system—Windows, MacOS, or Linux; or the primary software environment that contains the user’s application and data icons. The term “workspace” clearly only refers to the last of these and helps to avoid context confusion. Moreover, it is important to recognize that a workspace is not necessarily a component of an operating system or a self-contained computer, such as a Windows PC, but can operate as an independent environment accessible from multiple devices.
The true value of a workspace approach to user computing stems from the reality that we live in a multi-device world. A short decade ago, nearly all business users performed business tasks on a single platform—a Windows PC. However, the mobile revolution has since substantially increased the number of devices utilized in business environments. According to primary research from IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), roughly half of all workers now regularly employ multiple devices to perform job tasks. Note, this does not include any devices, such as personal smartphones, which are not used for business purposes. Further, 81 percent of smartphone and tablet users also regularly employ a PC, indicating that mobile device adoption is broadly supplementing PC usage, not replacing it.
As users move between devices, they require common access to the same applications, data, email, and other business services. Installing, patching, securing, updating, and maintaining all of these software elements is extremely time consuming and eminently unreliable if performed by purely manual processes. Making matters worse, today’s users must navigate a convoluted mix of local apps, web applications, software as a service (SaaS) applications, virtual applications, data shares, and a wide assortment of other resources hosted on private and public clouds to complete daily job tasks. IT administrators are struggling to coordinate all the systems, applications, and networking requirements necessary to keep all these essential IT components accessible to multiple device architectures.
By adopting a workspace approach, organizations centrally configure and manage user environments that are commonly accessible from any device. A number of approaches are available to achieve this. The most common workspace solutions actively in use today include the virtual desktop workspace container, HTML desktop, and digital workspace. These solutions are detailed here.
Virtual Desktop – A desktop environment that functions independently of the physical device used to access it. While there are many different types of desktop virtualization, the most commonly used is a virtual desktop infrastructure, which hosts the desktop environment on a remote server and then displays the workspace environment to any user device running a compatible hypervisor.
Workspace Container – Initially introduced to enable a bring your own device environment support to mobile devices, workspace containers deliver a collection of business-related applications, data, and services that are locally installed on each user device but logically segmented from a user’s personal applications, data, and services. This creates a “duel persona” environment that allows users to rapidly switch from a personal workspace to a business workspace without violating enterprise security requirements.
HTML Desktop – An HTML environment presenting business applications, data, and services, commonly hosted on a public or private cloud, and accessed via a web browser from any device. To maintain security, business resources are commonly inaccessible outside of the HTML desktop and data cannot be downloaded to remote devices.
Digital Workspace – A cloud-hosted platform that aggregates the distribution, access rights, and configuration of applications, data, and other services. Individual software components may be locally installed apps, web apps, virtual apps, data shares, or any other public or privately available digital resource. User privileges and software settings are centrally defined in a consolidated set of profiles.
Of the workspace solutions included in this list, digital workspaces offer the most promising solution to today’s most pressing personal computing challenges. All software elements of the digital workspace environment, regardless of where they are physically hosted, are centrally managed to enable optimal user productivity on any device they choose to employ.
While there are similarities between the advantages of this approach and those of virtual or HTML desktops, the key differences are that each software element is delivered independently and in an optimal manner rather than simply being displayed from a remotely hosted environment over a single network connection.
Additionally, digital workspaces do not depend on the costly and complex infrastructure requirements of desktop virtualization and are not subject to the performance limitations and persistent connectivity requirements of an HTML desktop.
Orchestrating Digital Workspaces
To be effective, the delivery and configuration of digital workspace elements must operate invisibly to end users. From an end user’s perspective, all business resources should appear in a common workspace environment that is accessible from any device. Applications appropriate to each device platform should be automatically installed or made easily accessible in a dynamic fashion to address any endpoint system requirements without the need for user or administrator interaction. Of course, this approach requires a lot of automated moving parts behind the scenes. Each software element must be individually customized to support each end user, operate on each supported endpoint device, and meet enterprise security and business requirements. Achieving this requires a careful orchestration of administrative processes and automation from a consolidated and centrally controlled management environment.
The key to success in managing a digital workspace environment is the ability of IT administrators to govern the enterprise IT applications, data, and services employed on all types of user devices from a common set of profiles. Achieving this consolidated management approach requires the adoption of a unified endpoint management platform. This is the only method for centrally governing security access and authentication processes from all endpoint operating environments to business resources distributed across both internal and external hosting environments, and is the most essential initial step to orchestrating a digital workspace.
Unified endpoint management platforms should be carefully selected to ensure they meet business requirements and regulatory commitments for all endpoint devices in the support stack. However, it is equally important to adopt solutions that are easy to use. A comprehensive solution has no value to the business if it is too complex for administrators to use effectively. Investing in a management platform that is fully automated and employs analytics will achieve significant returns on investments as organizations transition to a digital workspace environment. Unified endpoint management platforms—such as those offered by Citrix, IBM, and VMware—help administrators target processes for the strategic and secure delivery of business services rather than trying to “drink the ocean” with end-to-end device control.
By enabling centralized management and control of all business resources, digital workspaces significantly reduce the efforts required to ensure enterprise security and compliance while empowering end users with the freedom to perform job tasks on any device in the most productive manner. SW
Steve Bransen is a research director at EMA. Prior to joining EMA, he supervised a 24/7 enterprise storage operations team at Agilent Technologies to ensure disaster recovery and high availability of critical enterprise data. During his tenure at Agilent, he was also responsible for security project management and coordinating DS5 SOX auditing. Bransen’s experience in operations support provides EMA with a unique perspective on actual IT operations concerns, needs, and solutions.
May2017, Software Magazine