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In the past, a user would have a single laptop he could work with for all his computing needs, and the Windows desktop was the go-to place to get work done.
VDI took the desktop and moved it off the user's endpoint to the data center where the desktop lives. The idea of a virtual desktop deployment is to bring together all the resources users need to get their work done. But with users working with laptops, smartphones, tablets and more, all of which have different interfaces and operating systems, it's difficult for them to seamlessly move from one to the other.
To complicate matters further, Windows applications aren't the only game in town anymore. Users work with a mixture of local applications, web applications and mobile apps. To adapt to these changes, IT professionals must think of their users' computing deployments as being more than a Windows desktop with Windows applications. There are multiple application types and various device types that a virtual desktop deployment alone cannot address.
How workspaces fill the gap
The virtual desktop deployment of the past cannot account for all the device and application diversity in today's enterprise, and it must become part of the strategy to provide IT to end users. To enable end-user productivity, IT must create a cohesive computing deployment.
One way to embrace this diversity is to deploy a virtual desktop portal -- or workspace -- that unifies access across devices. Ultimately, the workspace becomes the new desktop -- the one place to access all the computing requirements. It also brings mobile device management and enterprise desktop management under one roof.
As an example, someone working in professional services might need access to web-based applications -- private technical references, a timesheet application and a project management application. Each of these applications is available over the internet, but each one requires independent authentication. The user must access email and calendaring, as well as Microsoft Office for writing documentation.
The mail server needs authentication and the user needs access to file shares. A virtual desktop provides the user access to all these things, but it is not very practical when he is on site with limited network access or in an economy class seat without enough space for his laptop.
A workspace that provides the same desktop experience on his Windows and Apple macOS desktops and a native experience on his Apple iPad or Google Android phone will help him be more productive. The timesheet application may have a native app on his iPad, which is likely better than the web interface on his virtual desktop. The workspace becomes a consistent experience on every device he uses rather than just being a Windows machine.
Part of this improved productivity comes from the user choosing the right device for each task. A bank's mobile app, for example, could be easier to work with than a web app. As a result, a user might frequently pick up his phone to bank when he's sitting at his desk in front of his 4K screen.
On the other hand, writing Word documents can be frustrating on a phone, but natural on a laptop. A workspace must provide the user with the optimal experience on each device and ideally pass context between the devices.
Why a physical or virtual desktop deployment is still valuable
Where workspaces still need some work is with application integration. It would be helpful, for example, if messages about bank payments could go to the user's Windows email client and open the bank app on his phone rather than on the bank's website.
There is a large gap between a virtual desktop deployment or a Windows desktop and a mobile device in this regard. The traditional desktop was the simple place to integrate multiple applications. A customer relationship management application could install a plug-in in a user's email client and automatically track his activities. A document management application could intercept the operating system file open/save function to control documents.
Making application integration work on multiple operating systems, particularly mobile ones, is complicated, and the user experience is often clunky. The ability to integrate all of a user's computing activities in one place is a significant reason why both virtual and physical desktops still exist. Making a workspace that reproduces this integration is a huge challenge.