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How VDI can bridge the gap between old Windows apps and BYOD

Older Windows apps that may still be critical for business use just don't transition well to mobile devices, but desktop virtualization can help.

As bring your own device changes the way people access applications, desktop virtualization can help bring older Windows apps into the new style of working.

More and more employees use mobile devices to get their job done, and, particularly for staff in sales or service roles, a laptop is a thing of the past. Many companies with mobile staff let workers choose the bring your own device (BYOD) option, and IT then delivers business applications to their devices.

Business applications specifically written for mobile Web access make this easy, but the hard part comes when mobile workers require older Windows apps. Giving your employees a laptop to do 10% of their work when a mobile device allows them do the other 90% is a waste. One of the ways to bridge that last 10% is to use a virtual desktop to deliver the old applications to the mobile device.

Which Windows apps need better mobile access?

Many "systems of engagement" applications are being redeveloped into mobile and Web applications first. These are the systems that get business in the door and product out the door: sales, delivery and service applications. If they work right, then the right product goes to the right customer at the right price and everyone gets paid. This is not just an idea but a reality for many businesses. These reworked applications work well on tablets and smartphones over pervasive 3G and 4G cellular networks.

The fly in the ointment is the "systems of record" applications, the ones that are needed to keep the lights on. The systems of record include time sheets, leave applications, expense claims -- anything that is about running the company, not making the product. While these older systems don't drive profitability, they do enable business. They are essential but boring, and they are seldom replaced. These systems tend to hang around for a long time and some are used by every person in the company.

Plus, these systems were developed in the PC era, when a Windows desktop was in front of every staff member. Mobile staff must return to the office or use a laptop with a virtual private network (VPN) to connect and enter information. If this is the only hour of the week that staff will spend in the office, it's a waste to give them a PC or laptop to complete this single task. You need another way.

Pros and cons of desktop access on mobile

To ease access to systems-of-record applications, you can move the desktop into a data center, then have staff access this remotely using their chosen mobile device. The major desktop broker vendors have clients for every available mobile device. This allows staff to choose their own device without worrying about how to get to the desktop. Most clients also have ease-of-use features that make desktop applications friendlier to touch devices, although some still have a long way to go. Still, it's important because the systems-of-record applications expect a keyboard and mouse.

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Most of the brokers also have a secure Internet gateway server that removes the need for a VPN. Setting up a VPN can be extremely painful on mobile devices, so it's great that these brokers have removed that task. Even better for IT, these users need only a small number of applications to be hosted in the data center, and the applications seldom change. This enables you to have a basic desktop image, either a Remote Desktop Session Host server or a nonpersistent virtual desktop, which both come with the lowest maintenance effort possible. Also, the users won't use the desktop a lot, so session concurrency and resource demand are low.

Just make sure the desktop doesn't run slowly during peak usage times for those users, such as the end-of-month rush to get expense claims entered. This is the kind of virtual desktop that sits largely ignored in a corner of the data center and simply does its job when needed. You might be tempted to expand and add tools for nonmobile teams, but it's better to make a new virtual desktop build for those new purposes. Keep the mobile staff desktop as minimal as possible. Like a mobile application, this desktop should do little but do it well.

Still, it is important to recognize that a mobile device is not a great way to access Windows apps. No matter how good the client on the mobile device gets at fixing the user interface, these old applications are not touch-friendly. This strategy is for applications that take up 10% or less of the user's day, not all day, every day. Again, be sure to keep this virtual desktop focused on its small set of tasks to ensure easy management and a good user experience.

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