How consumerized hosted apps will disrupt the IT power structure

Spoon CEO Kenji Obata sounds off on the consumerization of applications and how the desktop space will look in the future.

It's no secret that the trend in enterprises today is toward managing individual applications rather than full desktops. But what does that mean for IT administrators?

Kenji ObataKenji Obata

It's a shift in power, Spoon.net CEO Kenji Obata said. Everything is moving toward a more consumer-oriented experience, where IT and the enterprise have less control over tools, devices and infrastructure. Seattle-based Spoon, one of the earliest companies to embrace application virtualization, will try to stay ahead of this trend by offering end users a place to drop and access full hosted apps and data.

In a Q&A with SearchVirtualDesktop, Obata discussed the obstacles to cloud-hosted apps and desktops, as well as how Spoon overcame Microsoft's restrictive licensing rules.

How viable is Desktop as a Service right now? Are people ready to adopt cloud-hosted apps and desktops, or is it just starting to be a conversation for organizations?

Kenji Obata: It's definitely a proven concept and an interesting concept, [but] there have been several obstacles to this type of deployment. We solve one of them in that Spoon doesn't require a large data center presence like VDI. ... The need to have a data center and all this connectivity, that's been a big obstacle to adoption. Amazon has stepped in [with WorkSpaces] and tried to solve one of those problems by saying, 'Hey, we'll do all that for you.'

Traditionally it's been hard to package and deploy the apps with Spoon, so one of our focuses in the past year has been converting that from a process that required an IT expert into a process that could just be done directly by the end user -- a one-click, consumer-oriented experience. There's a large audience out there -- that's essentially the consumer -- that wants to have access to their apps anywhere. They want to be able to move between desktops and devices in a way that doesn't require IT expertise. … Think of it as a consumerized version of app virtualization.

To consumerize the enterprise, you need to have a compelling user experience. Dropbox has done that successfully with file storage; they create a polished experience for users to put their files and get them from anywhere. We envision Spoon.net as that kind of experience, but for hosted applications. ...

What does that consumerization mean for the future of the desktop?

To consumerize the enterprise, you need to have a compelling user experience.

Kenji Obata,
CEO, Spoon.net

Obata: Things are moving away from being desktop-oriented to being application-oriented. … [Users] log in because they have to do their work, they have a project due in school, or something like that, and they need a particular app.

There used to be a power structure in IT where, when the enterprise provided the hardware and control of the network, it lent itself to a centralized, hierarchical model of IT. … Now you have high-speed cellular networks, you have someone bringing in an iPad, and you no longer control the device. … What you're going to see over the next year or two years is that the tool sets that are accessible to consumers, using that infrastructure, are going to mature as we get a new breed of vendors that's going to be highly disruptive to legacy enterprise IT products.

You're going to see vendors that are built for the cloud, built for mobile and built for the consumer essentially take the legacy IT product category and rework them into consumer-oriented experiences. A lot of those enterprise desktop management products are very old systems that have been around for decades; people will be astonished by the speed with which those systems are replaced. Think about how quickly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram disrupted traditional media. You're going to see something very akin to that happen in the workplace.

How do you think Microsoft's potential cloud offering with Project Mohoro will change hosted app and desktop licensing rules?

Obata: Whenever you have a new technology, there's inevitably a conflict with existing licensing structures. And inevitably, new licensing emerges that's compatible with the new technology. You saw that with the e-book reader and when VMware was first emerging on the scene: There was a whole debate about whether your OS license allows you to run multiple virtual instances on one physical instance. When new technologies emerge, like DaaS, you always have a brief period of uncertainty or conflict. But it's very hard to suppress a new technology. If it serves a need, users rapidly adopt the technology, and legacy licensing structures evolve to become compatible.

Spoon had an issue with Microsoft in 2010 around delivering Internet Explorer [IE]. How did you resolve that, and how can companies work around Microsoft licensing in the cloud?

Obata: That issue we had with Microsoft was a really particular case. We had a copy of IE that people could download on our site. [Microsoft] didn't have a problem with people running IE on a virtual machine; it was more of a specific thing that we worked around by essentially having people download IE directly from Microsoft. … We actually run the apps on the end user's own device. That sidesteps a lot of those licensing issues. We're essentially transporting the app to the user and running it on their local device, which has a Windows license.

We've adopted an approach toward licensing which is that we preserve the behavior of the existing licensing structure. So, installing an app on a Spoon VM is just like installing an app on a VMware VM. The underlying technology is different, but we moved to a model where you can create a Spoon VM, you can install your apps on it, and it's not going to behave any differently than if you have it installed on a bare-metal machine or VMware virtual instance. The nice thing is that by now the practices around installing software on VMs is a relatively accepted and understood pattern, so that helps us quite a bit.

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