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BYOD employees go beyond the Windows desktop without VDI

Mac and iOS devices are becoming prevalent in the enterprise. IT must deliver Windows desktop apps to them, but VDI may not be the answer.

NEW YORK -- Although Windows makes up the lion's share of enterprise desktops, the bring-your-own-device trend...

allows more people to use Macs and mobile devices to do their work.

Alex SukennikAlex Sukennik

Apple Inc.'s products have a leg up because of the familiarity that the average consumer feels toward them. That means IT must be prepared to support these devices whether they are local or mobile, said Alex Sukennik, chief information officer at Parallels, a cloud hosting and desktop management provider.

At this week's Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise, or CITE, forum, Sukennik spoke with about the future of remote access and where VDI fits into that landscape -- if it fits at all.

What do you see for the future of the Windows desktop in this mobile era?

Alex Sukennik: A mobile desktop is going to be even more important as companies adapt. Everyone has a different device nowadays; you have Microsoft devices, Apple's, etc. One of the key challenges CIOs have is making sure we have security on all the equipment we have. I care more about securing the data versus the device itself. With virtualization of Windows, whether it's on a mobile device, an iPad or a Windows tablet, you want to be able to have control of how your data is being secured remotely.

We're seeing that virtual technologies, which we also use in-house, enable us to have the security and control of data by deploying the image on a machine that's owned by the user. It's going to be an even bigger challenge for large enterprises -- how do you secure a private device that's coming in?

You can't stop consumerization; it's just happening. Virtualization is going to be important, and you might even see things go back to a type of mainframe environment, where you have things in the cloud and it doesn't matter what device you have to access it as long as you have a connection.

Carlos [Capo, national channel manager at Parallels] said a lot of companies have about 5% to 10% Mac population. Do you see that amount increasing?

Sukennik: I certainly think so. For a user coming in with a laptop, the first thing IT wants to do is get control of that laptop. So, virtualization is going to continue. It's a cool technology, and people want the flashy device but they don't necessarily know how to use it yet. So they're going to come to IT.

You can't stop consumerization; it's just happening.

Alex Sukennik,
CIO, Parallels

What's interesting is how Macs are getting into those companies. Before it was that IT controls everything. Now you have the CEO or another top-level employee saying, 'I want this device.' So, IT is going, 'We have to support this; we have to embrace this.' People are going to want to bring their own devices and they're comfortable with [Macs]. There are statistics that show that if you bring your own device, you take care of it better, and actually productivity increases.

By "applifying" the applications, we're allowing consumers to use Windows applications in a way you would use a Macbook. There's a reason people are bringing in their own devices -- they like it; they like the interface. Now we're taking Word and Excel and giving you the tools to use them as if they were built for the iPad. It's about centralization, giving IT visibility, management, security and access. It allows you to get away from VDI and set a strategy in place that lets you support a Mac without using too many solutions.

What does the new age of desktop access mean for virtual desktop infrastructure?

Sukennik: I think it depends on the company, because it matters what the environment is and what the goal is. VDI is going to be there, but if you have control of the Mac and the OS and the virtual machine, that's the world I want to be in. … You don't have to build these central terminal services and big frameworks, and you can just let users bring your own device. You set an image and make sure you have security on the back end. That's the best model to deploy … .

The VDI world that we had before, where you build big terminal servers and then start creating VDI, that's starting to take a backseat. What you really want is the security of your data, so if you have virtualization, CIOs will start saying 'Do we really need [VDI]? Where do we want the control?' You can secure a mobile device, for instance, with some kind of file-sharing technology, so if you lose your device, I can easily say, 'Let's blow away that machine and access the data by going into Dropbox for Enterprise,' for example.

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I agree that securing and managing the data is paramount as opposed to wiping devices which seems like overkill given the number of quality Applications that now exist. However rendering a desktop on an iPhone or iPad is not the solution either. A more considered approach would be a native App that provides the experience and yet maintains the necessary level of security to and from virtual desktops.
Smaller devices such as tablets and smart phones are great for *consuming* all sorts of content, but not so great for *creating* it. If you're constantly on the road -- or are really just texting, tweeting, surfing or shopping -- then there's no reason why you need a VDI desktop, Windows or otherwise. If you spend more of your working hours programming, working with spreadsheets or, lord help you, writing documents of more than a page or two in Word, then a larger form factor -- or at least a larger display -- has obvious benefits.

User popularity aside, the problem presented by BYOD of all kinds is that they're all fat clients: they have local state and they store data locally. That means that data can be compromised when they're lost or stolen, and if they contain anything sensitive, IT as well as the device owner ought to worry about the vulnerability of data at rest.

(If you happen to work for the NSA, you can rest assured that they're not the only ones spying on you. ;-))

VDI isn't the solution for all the world's problems, but it handles a few of them very well. If you, or your company's employees, need to access the same desktop from anywhere, there's not yet anything better. If you don't actually need a desktop, then it's not right for your situation, you lucky (or unemployed) devil. For those who need a desktop sometimes but rely on a tablet or smart phone while on the road, there are ancillary solutions -- Horizon Workspace comes to mind -- that can isolate a space on a BYOD where you can use applications that are located behind a secure firewall from your iPad (or whatever), and if/when you leave it at the airport by mistake, or you quit to work for a competitor (or whatever), IT can wipe just the corporate portion and leave the rest intact.