Archive for the ‘Desktops’ Category

Surface Pro 3 – 12 inches of shiny…

May 21, 2014

I just saw this morning that Microsoft have announced the Surface Pro 3… I must admit it looks quite nice. I have always thought of the Surface as more of a MacBook Air competitor than an iPad competitor, so it is interesting to see the comparisons drawn on the Microsoft website.
If you are going more after the laptop market, why not have a slightly larger screen? That makes sense to me. I’m pleased to see they reckon they have sorted the ‘typing on the lap’ issue that was really challenging with the original surface. However cool the keyboard attachments were, typing on your knees always felt like you were dicing with gadget death…
I haven’t had a go with one yet but hopefully I will get the chance in the near future…

Advertisements

VDI – the final furlong

January 28, 2014

It’s a running joke in our industry that every year since 2006 has been the year of the virtual desktop. In reality, it’s been a mixed bag over the years, and has been sold as a panacea when in fact it has been very use-case dependent.
I’m firmly of the opinion that we are gently moving towards a ‘workspace’ metaphor rather than a ‘desktop’ one – where a device-independent portal connects users to the applications, files, data etc that they need to do their job. With the acquisition of Mobile Device and Application Management vendors recently by both Citrix and VMware, it certainly seems to be moving in that direction.
In the meantime, however, pretty much everyone still has need of a good old Windows desktop in some way, shape or form for existing applications – which brings us back to VDI. What’s interesting is that over the last few months, the technology stack supporting VDI has matured to the point where I reckon we can deliver pretty much any desktop or use case using that technology. There are two important parts at play here:
Firstly, the maturation of flash storage technology. Whether an all-flash array, in-server flash, or hybrid, there are now options available, at a reasonable price, to help to drive the performance your users really need.
Secondly, graphics card technology. NVidia are doing some great stuff here in enabling us to dedicate graphics capability to desktop virtual machines – in conjunction with some clever software stuff from the VDI players.
Between these two advancements, we’re able to do some pretty awesome stuff. Admittedly our EUC team seems to spend most of their time showing off that they are able to play Call of Modern Warfare or some such rubbish from a field in the middle of nowhere, but we are finding some real use cases in architects and other heavy CAD users. We’ve been able to take a chunk of cost out of their bill for workstations – and give them an element of flexibility and IP protection that didn’t exist before.
So VDI might not be the ultimate answer – but until you can access CAD from the cloud, we can help!

Predictions for 2013…

January 7, 2013

I normally post stuff here to make sure I like it before cross-posting on the Softcat website. This one made it onto the main site before I got round to sticking it on here, but for completeness’ sake here are my predictions for 2013 – interested in your views so please feel free to comment!

Clouds moving faster

It looks like ‘cloud’ is finally past the ‘trough of disillusionment’. We saw a surge of interest particularly in the second half of 2012 and we expect that to continue and even accelerate this year. IT departments are starting to realise that they need to spend more time working with the business on the applications they need to do their jobs – and less time worrying about the flashing lights in the data centre. Cloud doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw out all your servers and storage and let your data out into the big wide world – your strategy might equally be to invest in the latest generation of pre-validated infrastructure stacks, complete with management layer, to take a lot of the pain away from worrying about hardware, firmware compatibility, multi-vendor support issues etc. The main thing is there are options…

What to do?
Evaluate your options, when the time is right – with the help of someone who can advise on a range of different approaches. On/off premise and indeed hybrid are all options. When acquiring new software, look at SaaS options alongside on premise deployments. Don’t forget connectivity – quite often overlooked when considering cloud approaches.

A big year for Microsoft

It’s going to be a huge year for Microsoft, with new releases of Windows, Office, Exchange and SharePoint either out or shipping this year. The desktop is the obvious place to start – with the impending end of support for Windows XP (April 2014) it doesn’t take a genius to suggest that we’ll see an acceleration of Windows 7/8 migrations. It will be really interesting to see the split between Windows 7 and Windows 8. My gut feel is that Windows 7 will be the default choice but the UI in Windows 8 as well as the wide selection of form factors (pick one to suit your working style!) will drive adoption for more mobile workers.

Outside of Windows, there’s a lot of interest in LYNC – and with the increase in collaboration features as well as a much more social approach SharePoint 2013 could be a hit!

What to do?

Familiarise yourself with the roadmap and work out where the technology matches the needs of your organisation over the coming year or so. It’s also worth taking stock of your licensing situation to make sure you’re in a position to take advantage of the new releases if appropriate. If you have Software Assurance in place, make sure you are taking advantage of some of the extra benefits – in particular Deployment Planning Services and Training Vouchers to help you get set for the roll-out.

Mobility

No surprises here but the pressure on IT to allow user-owned devices to connect will get even stronger. You can try and offset this with an appropriate form factor of Windows 8 tablet, but in reality your users will want to work on whatever device they choose/chose! Fortunately this year will see a range of technologies to help you secure these devices and deliver services to them. Our security team are talking about ‘The Return of the NAC’ – using network security to identify users and devices and route them securely to appropriate resources. This sort of ‘contextual analysis’ will also hopefully enable us to detect threats and infections earlier and respond appropriately. Now that this new mobile world means that we cannot rely upon perimeter-based security, maybe now we will start to see a ‘secure by design’ approach rather than making use of point products to plug gaps.

We’ll also see offerings, from Citrix and VMware among others, that will provide a ‘gateway application’ delivering access to a range of internal resources, SaaS services and native apps.

I’m going to go out on a limb here having spent the last year researching options – but maybe this year we will get clear and concise guidance from HMRC on tax treatment for individuals buying devices for work use, and for organisations providing a contribution towards such devices…. Fingers crossed, anyway!

What to do?

Now more than ever it is imperative to have a clearly defined mobile strategy. Email is the starting point – but it is definitely worth looking at how access to applications on the go can speed up the flow of your business.

Buzzwords of the year

No doubt we will hear (as we have every year since 2006!) that 2013 will be the year of the virtual desktop… Other than that, hopefully we will see a decline in the tendency of vendors to ‘cloud-wash’ their software. Now that the whole IT world knows what cloud is, that ceases to have much value. No doubt the ‘Big Data’ bandwagon will continue to trundle on this year. I rather think the value is in the analytics rather than the size of the data! The big one for 2013 will of course be ‘Software Defined’ – the concept that functionality previously in hardware can be managed from a software layer in an abstracted manner. This has been applied so far to networking, storage and indeed the whole data centre – expect to be flooded with ‘software defined’ products by the end of the year!

Maybe VDI could be the answer to BYOD, after all?

July 18, 2012

I had an interesting thought regarding the use of VDI (hosted virtual desktops) as a way to enable a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy. Centrally hosted desktops, whether true VDI or session-based, can be a part of a mobile/ remote working strategy and can be a relatively easy way of getting existing Windows applications onto tablets without having to re-architect the application completely for native or HTML-5 mobile access. However, current Windows and applications are not really touch friendly, and the endless panning and scrolling etc required to use Windows 7 on an iPad or equivalent means that it is not really a viable solution for full-time working. I have long thought that VDI is perhaps a stepping stone (probably a ten-year stepping stone!) to having device-independent applications accessible from whatever device you choose.

What interested me though was the announcement of the next generation of Office – coupled with the imminent release of Windows 8. Both look to have the Metro interface (which I really rather like) and to be touch-enabled. The intention, obviously, from a Microsoft point of view is for all of this to work perfectly on a native-Windows 8 device, whether tablet, slate, traditional laptop or some entirely new form factor of which we can only dream.

However, if Windows and Office in the short term and most Windows 8 apps in the medium term are Metro – and touch – enabled, that just might change the game. If a centrally hosted desktop can present the touch interface, and this can be remoted to any device running an appropriate receiver or client, any touch device should be comfortably able to present and deliver a Metro/ touch experience. Therefore VDI becomes a far more usable proposition for delivering Windows apps to devices.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if it works (time to get testing in the Softcat labs) this could drive significant uptake of VDI technology. All we need to fix now is the licensing. Oh, and if someone can magic up pervasive connectivity throughout the world that might help too…

My predictions for 2012…

January 3, 2012

I normally do this the other way round, but this time I decided to publish on the Softcat.com news site first – but for those of you who follow me here (thank you!), here’s my predictions for IT, plus some suggestions for how to address and take advantage of these trends. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from all at Softcat! I thought we would start the year off with a few predictions for what we expect to happen over the course of the year. Rather than this being simply some predictions in isolation, we’ve made a few suggestions as to how you might be able to respond to, or take advantage of, these trends:

Desktop – if you haven’t already, you will come under increasing pressure to migrate to Windows 7. We expect IT to need to reduce desktop management costs, while maintaining or improving service levels to the business. Windows 8 is looking likely to ship towards the end of the year – it’s looking good so far and could be interesting when your PC, phone and tablet run basically the same OS. We think Windows 8 will be the last revision of the ‘desktop’ operating system as we know it – Windows won’t go away, but will increasingly be a platform across a huge range of devices.

What to do?

Get your desktop house in order – look at management toolsets such as System Center to reduce the pain of migrating to Windows 7 and of ongoing maintenance, and reconsider server-based computing (VDI, Terminal Services etc) where this makes sense.

BYOD – more and more people within  your organisation will demand, and even expect, to be able to use their own devices – particularly phones and tablets – for work purposes. You need to set out your strategy here, as it is something that you can harness to improve productivity, employee satisfaction and business continuity.

What to do?

Evaluate the risk inherent in having data on these devices, versus the demand and potential gains. Technologies such as GOOD can encrypt data on those end-points, or you can use centralised computing to deliver Windows apps to those devices without any data getting on to the device. Over time, you may want to consider rearchitecting your line-of-business applications or at least having a transport mechanism that enables delivery to handheld devices.

Communications – we think there will be two main trends in communications. The first will be mobility-related – replacing desktop handsets by running telephony clients on mobile devices, and increasingly implementing VoIP over GSM or WiFi. The second will be an increase in the use of casual, desktop-based video conferencing and application sharing. Both of these trends will improve collaboration across geographical boundaries and bring disparate work-forces closer together.

What to do?

We think the increasing interest in Microsoft LYNC will drive both of these areas, so you could do worse than start there, especially if you have an Enterprise Agreement which gives you at least some LYNC entitlement. There’s a healthy ecosystem of products to improve and extend the capabilities of LYNC, as well.

Datacentre – virtualisation will continue to be the prevailing trend. If you haven’t, you really should – and if you have, you should probably do more! We’ll see more management technologies, both from the virtualisation vendors and from the ecosystem, which will help to push up the percentage of applications you virtualise, as well as to migrate towards the nirvana of a ‘private cloud’. No doubt your demand for storage will accelerate as well, so you will need to be clever about the way in which you use disk to keep on top of costs in that area while maintaining the performance your applications need. Oh, and you’ll need to improve your ability to recover in the event of a disaster, too.

What to do?

Review your strategy for virtualisation – are you trading physical server sprawl for the virtual equivalent? Would tighter management enable you to drive up utilisation? Review your storage strategy as well – can you make use of deduplication, for example – or employ a combination of SSDs for performance and cheaper, slower disk for data? The combination of clever use of storage and increased virtualisation can make it far easier – and cheaper – to implement a robust DR plan.

Cloud – this is the year that we will see ‘Cloud’ descend into Gartner’s ‘trough of disillusionment’. It wouldn’t surprise us if we saw the first serious security breach in the cloud space, and doubtless another large-scale outage.  Having said that, losing some of the hype will make Cloud a more realistic proposition for businesses when done properly. We think that localised, friendly cloud providers will be increasingly important – credit-card-cloud will be reserved for development and test.

What to do?

Don’t write cloud off – but look to providers where you have or can build a relationship and where doing your own due diligence is possible. Look to extend the capabilities of your infrastructure for capacity or DR by partnering with a provider of infrastructure as a service, and if your business needs a new application, consider cloud options against on-premise.

Security – Firstly, 2012 is the year we expect security technologies to start to catch up with virtualisation. Up until now the available technologies have been somewhat immature, and the new model of ‘introspection’ via APIs will improve this. Secondly, this will be the year the business tells you to stop blocking Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, as people are now genuinely using them as business tools. You will no longer be able to mitigate the risks by turning them off! We’ll also see more focus than ever on keeping data safe – something which is increasingly difficult in this mobile world.

What to do?

Firstly, if your legislative or threat landscape demands it, look seriously at Intrusion Prevention technologies which will work across your virtual environment. Secondly, make sure that your Web Security Policy is up-to-date, and supplement it with a powerful filtering technology that enables control down to application-level within social networking sites, rather than taking a simple allow-or-deny approach. Thirdly, gain an understanding of the way in which data moves around your organisation and make sure your access policy limits data misuse, especially through social media and email. Encryption of remote access is a sensible step, and you may, if your position requires it, like to give consideration to a data-loss-prevention tool.

Did you ever know that you’re my HERO?

October 27, 2011

Interesting concept here from Forrester – apparently HERO stands for Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives. These are your execs, your top sales guys – the people who work to drive your business forward and help you to change and to innovate. This reminds me of a conversation I had with our wonderful (if somewhat crazy!) chairman about being a ‘challenger’. Very interesting!

So, according to Forrester, these people are increasingly using Macs (and, I would presume, iPads etc) in a business context, because they are not constrained to the Windows desktop that they are provided by ‘corporate’. This is noteworthy as it is only three years since Forrester declared that Macs only had a niche place in business.

This has been a trend I have been following for a while – regular readers will know about my iPad addiction. When I attended the VMware Premier Partner Exec Council in January of this year, which encompassed the top 200 VMware partners worldwide, I was amazed at the number using iPads and MacBooks – and the small number using PCs.

I’ve been experimenting with the Bring Your Own Device/ PC concept within Softcat, and you know what? It works. The main reason for this was the fact that I was starting to embrace some of the social media concepts that were around, wanted to have access to those tools from whatever device – and also work (sadly!) from a variety of platforms in and out of hours. I guess I am not your typical employee, and hopefully I am a touch more technically literate than your average IT user, but you know what? This stuff works! I’ve had the luxury of access to both Citrix XenApp and VMware View, and of course we run Outlook Web Access and provide external access to SharePoint – the latter two being where I spend most of my time.

Not only does this stuff work, but it’s coming. There are plenty of technology solutions out there for device security, any-device access, application delivery – make sure you get ready for it!

(UPDATE)

This is not intended as anti-PC and certainly not anti-Windows – of course I am using Windows, but just via a remote connection. What I am saying is that I am ‘pro-choice’ – over the form factor, the access device, the (local) operating system. It’s anti-corporate conformity, not anti-Windows… It depends on what you want, and how you personally work more efficiently. One of our VMware techies runs Fedora as his native OS – apparently that works for him, but it’s a stage too far for me!

Citrix acquiring ShareFile

October 13, 2011

On my way down to London this morning and I saw that CRN appear to have broken the news of Citrix’s acquisition of ShareFile. The theory here is that using the ShareFile technology, your files will be able to follow you on to any device you use in the same way that your applications do via Citrix Receiver. Two points, really, from me:
Firstly – this approach makes a lot of sense and doing it right will help us accelerate towards device-independent, and therefore installed-OS-independent computing. I’m convinced that’s the direction in which we are eventually heading.
Secondly – this is going to be an interesting market segment, as competition hots up. The big players today are really DropBox (the darling of the technical community) and Box.net (who, rumours have it, were Citrix’s original acquisition target before ShareFile). It sounds like VMware are working on their approach here, with their announcement of Project Octopus. These two giants of virtualisation and end-user computing are again on a collision course. Interesting times!

Transformer Man…

August 18, 2011

I got to take a look at one of our tech team’s new toy, yesterday – an ASUS Transformer tablet. Those of you who have read my brain-dumpings before will know how much of a fan of the tablet genre I am, and how much I love my iPad. I use a fair bit of Apple stuff, but I am absolutely not against all other vendors; however I hadn’t yet seen a tablet that I thought was the equal of or better than the iPad.

However, I was impressed with this one. It was fast, slick, seemed to work well. There was no discernible lag to the interface, which seems to be the case with many tablets. The keyboard/dock/extra battery worked very well, with hotkeys for certain functions and a really useable track pad. I was even able to play Fruit Ninja (badly, but that’s down to me not the device) using the track pad. And I gather the dock adds an extra 8 hours of battery, which is pretty awesome – somewhere close to 18 hours all in, apparently.

Downsides? Well, I’m not convinced the elongated (widescreen) form factor is for me – it wants to be in portrait whereas I tend towards landscape with tablets. It’s blooming heavy with the keyboard dock – unscientific measurement (holding apples in one hand, android in the other) suggests that the weight is roughly the same as my iPad and 11″ MacBook Air. I didn’t like the ouside coating, a plasticcy, sort-of carbon fibre effect. Although as Phill pointed out, it’s probably scratch resistant and does form a protective shell for the device when the keyboard dock is closed.

With access to a virtual desktop delivered by Citrix, VMware View or similar, this could be all the device you need…

I don’t think I will be replacing my iPad right now, but it’s good to see there’s some good competition at last!

Login issues with Mac OS X Lion

August 16, 2011

As a geek, I had to do it. I know you are supposed to wait for the first service pack, or at least until they iron out the bugs. So as soon as it was available, I installed OS X Lion. Pretty good overall to be honest. I’m not sure I have worked all the new tips and tricks into my workflow yet, but overall I like it.

Recently, though, I have developed an issue whereby I am unable to log in to applications – in particular the official Twitter app (probably a productivity advantage!) and Citrix (definitely not a productivity advantage!). I tried all sorts, including deleting the apps and reinstalling (nice and easy from the app store of course!).

I must admit I was getting a bit frustrated. However, tonight I decided to fiddle with network locations – not something I was actively using, to be honest. I deleted the network locations I had, and added a new one – hey presto, I can log in again.

Don’t ask me why it works (hey, if you know why, please tell me in the comments!), but it did. So you know what to try if you have the same problem!

Total Value of Ownership and ‘Martini Computing’

June 30, 2011

After the event with HP’s CTO I hosted, I was fortunate to be invited to an event in London with the President and CEO of Citrix, Mark Templeton. I was quite impressed with the guy, if I am honest – a really down to earth chap, which you don’t expect at the higher echelons of a large organisation. After the main event, which was a presentation and a Q and A, he was more than happy to have a chat over a cup of coffee, which was enlightening.

Some of the stuff he talked about resonated with me, as it was similar to the way we try to shape our own business. He was saying that while they are a public company and have a duty to their shareholders, they are more interested in building something interesting and powerful, which will deliver benefits to their customers – whilst having fun – than focusing short term on the needs of those shareholders. We try to do the same – focus on employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, in our belief that the former drives the latter. If we treat our customers right, the rest will follow – I’m sure that’s an appropriate standpoint. We’re privately owned, but I’m sure Mark’s attitude will deliver for his shareholders in the long term.

Anyway, back to business… Mark was talking about the way in which IT calculate the return of spending money – or how business calculates the return of spending money on IT. This is generally based on TCO – total cost of ownership – and whether having a lower TCO will generate a return for the investment over a given time period.

The suggestion was that in this day and age, we should be looking at Total Value of Ownership – TVO – instead. This means concentrating more on the benefits an IT solution will deliver to the business rather than the pure costs.

I guess this is particularly appropriate in the virtual desktop space where Citrix play – it’s difficult to justify a VDI project on capital grounds over the cost of replacing PCs, but the benefits come in terms of, yes, lowered operational expenditure but also in flexibility of workspace, device independent computing (letting users choose their access device), home working, employee experience… We’re likely to role out VDI for our own users, and can see such benefits, as an employer which likes to be nice to its staff, as really important. I look forward to the day when all users can access IT systems securely using the device of their choice, wherever and whenever they want. Maybe we should call it Martini computing….