The endpoint: beyond the last piece of the puzzle
There are mixed feelings on the importance covered by the role of the endpoint in VDI deployment. We are currently living at a time where companies are finally starting to make a great use and adoption of VDI and more generally of cloud services (on premise and localised resources are still largely adopted). If VDI and cloud services define the way resources and applications are delivered, there is still a big question mark on the future of the endpoint device: What are the drivers and the essential features to have? Is the endpoint just a means of accessing the VDI service or should we expect more from them?
Looking at the current landscape of business endpoints, companies are going through a mixed adoption of devices. Budget limitation, legacy applications, blurred future and unclear requirement decisions lever more on instant necessity than a long term smart strategy. With no clear strategic drivers, the current landscape is therefore scattered with all sorts of devices, PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, thin and zero clients creating confusion among users, inefficiency among administrators and not helping the overall company’s productivity and profitability. In an era where employees work mostly through technology, it is easy to understand how the endpoint devices can become a vital element to influence or affect business strategy and ultimately business goals (improved productivity, profitability and enhanced security). In this scenario, two categories of employees are critical to consider: users and IT administrators.
From one side, companies need to answer to users’ needs of simplicity, user friendliness and improved user experience, while on the other side the administrators’ necessity of security and operational cost reductions have to be considered. From an endpoint perspective, the key is to provide users with a reliable and user friendly device whereas powerful management and granular monitoring tools are the critical answers for the administrators.
In the modern times, the advent of smartphones and touch-based devices has also changed the expectations of users and the way they use their devices. Although this affects mainly the consumer market, users are inevitably bringing these expectations to work, forcing IT administrators and manufacturers to come up with solutions that address these needs in the B2B environment.
To further complicate matters, this surge in domestic computing now adds further complexity to the decision making process, often with the wrong outcome. Making use of the familiarity of the desktop between home and work devices was once used as a positive, however in business the endpoint device is a tool for the task in hand, so although it has a similar look to a home computer, its purpose is to deliver line of business applications, not home style entertainment.
The endpoint market is no longer driven only by affordable and solid devices and manufacturers need to invest more into research and innovation to lead the market and respond to ever changing requirements. VDI goes a long way towards re-focusing the purpose of the endpoint, but the initial connection to this centralised service cannot be ignored or dismissed. This is where endpoint management has to assert itself and assist both users and administrators alike.
Today, companies potentially have a broad spectrum of endpoint devices and to achieve endpoint management requires the use of multiple tools: either Active Directory (or similar) services, frame work management tools or third party utilities. Unfortunately, rather than aiding and improving the workspace, this often complicates and frustrates administrators and users alike.
Thin and zero client is often touted as the perfect solution to VDI access, and although rare, greenfield VDI projects do exist. Typically, thin clients form part of a bigger estate where a mixture of devices are used for a variety of purposes. A mixed environment will therefore have old PCs running legacy local applications, laptops for Wi-Fi and roaming connectivity, smartphones and tablets for communication and specific roles with thin clients being used for administration purposes.
Successful thin client implementations have depended on strong management tools and top manufacturers are heavily investing in innovating and extend the capabilities of their software solution to address more of the business estate. We are now entering the era of the “workspace management” where hardware manufactures are slowly turning into endpoint agnostic, software-based companies to ease the connection to the VDI infrastructure or the cloud based applications required by business. The goal is therefore to expand on the potential of manageability, simplifying the administrator’s life with single point management solutions and an improved user experience offering a seamless interface across all devices.
The rise of repurposing software and Windows shell replacement solutions is now extending the benefits of thin client management to any device, whilst offering support for legacy applications that cannot be migrated to VDI or the cloud. It is now possible to turn devices, such as PCs and laptops, into powerful, lightweight OS “thin clients” and ultimately provide users with the same experience across all endpoints and administrators with a tool to manage and monitor this diversified workspace.
With these integration methods, the strategy on how to access VDI or cloud-based services can now be addressed. With careful evaluation of the choices currently available on the market, cohesive company standards can now be defined for accessing this new virtual environment. This experience should be pervasive, and not restricted by technology or boundaries, providing a positive impact on a company’s bottom line, driving efficiency in operational costs and improving employee productivity.
The emergence of endpoint agnostic management technologies can put an end to an often overlooked aspect to deployment, creating opportunities and partially addressing business problems. Once adopted, workspace management will become the ignition point of a flexible way to expand the maximum potential of the endpoint device beyond just being the last piece of the puzzle.