An Enterprise Without Desktops?

Arthur Cole

Pity the poor desktop in the age of the cloud. Where once it reigned supreme throughout the enterprise, many now see it verging on obsolescence as new generations of access devices tailor themselves to a more mobile and flexible workforce.

At the same time, IT itself is losing its position as the gatekeeper of all things digital, with individuals and business users increasingly willing to do end-runs around official channels to gain the resources they need to do their jobs.

It all adds up to a sea change in the working environment that will make today's enterprise barely recognizable in 10 years' time.

A key driver in all of this is the consumerization of business technology, according to Niall Gilmore, Citrix' point man in the tech-savvy Irish market. The more knowledge workers turn to their Androids, iPads and netbooks, the more they will demand support from their IT infrastructures. No longer will IT be able to dictate what data is to be used and how it is to be accessed-the new reality has that power shifting to the user. And IT had better keep up or risk being labeled as an impediment to progress rather than a facilitator.

Jive Software's Nathan Rawlins lays out an even starker vision: Businesses that cling to today's IT model will try to contain the use of new services in an expensive and ultimately futile attempt to hold back the tide. Those that embrace the change will cede control of IT to users and user groups through app stores and demand-based service architectures, providing the kind of data flexibility that new, especially younger, workers demand, albeit with centralized security and policy management.

Already, software developers are designing the kinds of operating platforms that leverage both the cloud and virtualization to make end-user device technology all but irelevent as far as apps and data are concerned. Desktop for Life (DT4L), for example, just launched a new platform that retains hardened security and management features even as it caters to a wide range of device, browser and OS configurations. The package is built around continuously available desktop images accessible through WiFi or cell service via a virtual connect interface that supports Mac/OS, Windows, Linux, Android, IOS, RIM and WEB/OS. In this way, enterprises can be ready for any device that workers bring to the table.

Some people are already seeing a desktop-free future. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for one, sees the rise of real-time cloud applications as an entirely new era in the online services game. As IT infrastructure evolves into a social computing model, the cost-benefit of traditional client-server architecture will break down because the depreciation of owned hardware and software will no longer be justifiable. The end result will be a broad data environment, centrally managed, but available to users to access and manipulate any way they choose.

In all honesty, the notion of a desktop-free enterprise is probably going a little too far. Clearly, the traditional desktop will have to learn to share the workplace with other forms of access, but there's no reason to think it can't hold its own in a virtualized, cloud universe. Sitting comfortably in a warm office has its advantages, too.

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