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Digital workspaces embody end-user computing evolution

Applications and data used to all live on Windows desktops, but today's users access many of their resources elsewhere. Workspaces might be the best way for IT to regain central management.

The term "workspace" may sound like yet another new marketing buzzword, but the concept of workspaces is actually a result of the culmination of years of end-user computing progress.

To understand the digital workspace concept, it helps to look back a decade or two. For years, the Windows desktop acted as a standardized bucket that held almost everything IT needed to deliver to users. It provided the hardware, the user interface, the app launcher, app integration, data, the security container, the configuration container and identity. IT got very good at dealing with Windows using traditional client management technology.

Why digital workspaces?

Today, users have software as a service (SaaS), web apps, mobile devices, mobile apps, Macs, enterprise file sync-and-share (EFSS), and app stores in addition to their Windows applications and desktops.  As a result, their applications, data and settings are all over the place.

Fortunately, the products to deal with these newer technologies have matured rapidly. Enterprise mobility management (EMM) handles mobile devices and apps, EFSS provides data access across devices and identity management allows for secure access to SaaS and web apps.

The problem is, even though IT has all these new management tools, they're often individual point products. That makes both the IT management experience and the end user experience quite cumbersome.

The workspace wow factor

Workspace delivery and management products integrate as many of these different management technologies as possible, to unify the end user experience and IT management. They strive to provide the integration and convenience that Windows used to.

Users get a portal app that they can use to log in, access data and launch other apps.

When EMM, EFSS and identity management work together, IT gains all sorts of new conveniences. For example, when IT provisions an application for a user, many things can happen all at once: The application creates a new user account, the user gets single sign-on access with his existing credentials, and the software installs the appropriate client apps on all the user's devices.

With a digital workspace platform, users can access and edit a file on one device, and then seamlessly transition to another device and pick up right where they left off. Whether a device is corporate or personally-owned, and regardless of the operating system or form factor, users can access all their apps and data no matter what. Plus, users get a portal app that they can use to log in, access data and launch other apps.

On the IT side, security policies can take advantage of all a user's devices to provide context for determining access. For example, a device or application may require stronger authentication when the user is traveling in a foreign country.

The state of workspace technology

The goal of the workspace concept is to offer one smooth fabric of apps, data, identity and security that spans all devices and situations, but it isn't going to happen all at once.

Some broad examples of integration come from Citrix and VMware, because workspace management is a natural extension of the "work anywhere" idea that's embodied in their desktop virtualization products. VMware Workspace One and Citrix Workspace Suite now comprise desktop virtualization management, EMM and EFSS, with VMware adding identity management as well. Both vendors have been working to unify the products within their suites, for example by providing device-aware conditional access to applications and unifying app catalogues and portals.

Identity and access management products are another natural integration point for workspace management. Through connections to user directories, standard federation protocols, and APIs, these technologies can know who users are and control what applications and data they access across different types of devices.

Today, end-user computing is happening everywhere. Digital workspaces will help rein it in and make device and application management easier again.

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of the Modern Mobility e-zine.

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