The part of Windows 8 that could be a godsend for IT and is getting very little play anywhere is Windows To Go. This is the enterprise option for Windows 8, which places the entire employee image on a USB key that can then be run from any compliant (read: current-generation) desktop or laptop PC. In a BYOD world, this may be the near-perfect solution to the BYOD problem and virtually eliminate much of IT’s responsibility for desktop hardware.
Let me explain.
One of the problems for IT in a BYOD or traditional world is segmenting the business use of a PC from the work use. In a BYOD environment, the user’s hardware is running enterprise software and accessing enterprise resources. As a result, it becomes a relatively high-security risk because it doesn’t belong to, nor is it controlled by, IT. If the employee leaves the company, he or she certainly would expect to take his or her own PC with them and getting all of the company’s information off that PC is problematic.
Conversely, in a traditional PC world, IT owns and typically manages the PC, but employees use these things for personal projects, creating huge issues from a security standpoint (they may load malware while doing things that are frowned upon or outlawed at work with the machine at home). In addition, if they leave the company involuntarily, the removal of the PC can also isolate them from the personal application and information that has gradually built up on the PC while they used it. This makes an already difficult process of termination or layoff both more difficult and potentially more painful.
We called them “personal computers” for a reason, yet seem to ignore the personal part, which is where the problems are sourced.
This isn’t just a problem for the company, either. The employees either don’t get the hardware they want and lose it at a time when they may need it the most (while searching for a new job), or IT puts up a huge stink and wants some say about the hardware they own and what they run on it. In addition, their personal activities are often open for view to IT auditors, repair people and other employees during a repair event. These activities can reflect poorly on them even if they are only enjoying them on their own time and in their own homes.
Employees have never been fans of IT looking into their personal business.
The Windows To Go option allows IT to provide a solution that meets their needs while giving the employee the privacy demanded. You basically start out with a large USB drive and create a running image of Windows 8 on it. The employee gets the drive and Windows 8 and all the related files are on it. When the PC is rebooted with the USB key in place, it boots from and lives on the USB key (suggesting a security-hardened USB key would be wise) and the related PC operates according to IT direction. When the employees want some personal time, they shut down the PC, pull out the Windows To Go USB key and reboot back into their own personal PC experience. While this is less ideal than dual booting in terms of speed, it is also far more reliable and provides flash-level performance for the company image.
If the USB key is maintained separate from the laptop and the laptop is stolen, the company secrets are safe. And if a secure USB key is used, not only is it less likely to be stolen, but the attacker is somewhat unlikely to care about it.
Windows To Go is also a great way to try out Windows 8 for a while. This new platform forces you to use the new interface; if the USB key is implanted on Windows 7 PCs, the user can go back to the old interface on company hardware just by swapping out the USB key.
Wrapping Up: The Most Important Part of Windows 8
This is why I think Windows To Go is the most important part of Windows 8, far more important than the new interface or the tablets: It allows IT to move away from owning PCs, and more rapidly and more safely moves us to a place where both IT and users can equally benefit.